STUDENT MUZZLED BY SCHOOL by Brian Cook
Recently I attended a high school graduation ceremony. The class president and also valedictorian was making his speech. I noticed that he began speaking critically about the school administration and how it abused its authority with an authoritarian style that tended to ignore student opinion. He complained that unnecessary restrictions were placed on the students, restrictions that tended to stifle students’ right to be heard and their educational development. Suddenly, his microphone went dead. A school official approached and told him to stop the speech, and the student proceeded to walk off stage. Most of the students appeared to cheer their president, as did many in the audience.
The event burst on social media and also went national with coverage on outlets like CNN, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. The student was also interviewed on Jimmy Kimmel Live. I found all this attention interesting, a relatively small occurrence gaining such national attention. It all raised a lot of questions in my mind, though.
Some say the school essentially censored the student. Hmm. Maybe. But perhaps there was some justification. The student admitted he had to submit a speech for prior approval, but he did not include the brief critical section, knowing the administration would not approve it. During the speech he chose to go off-script, clearly violating the stated arrangement. This is interesting!
Our system includes many Constitutional freedoms bestowed on an individual, such as freedom of speech, and we value them dearly. But then again, “There is a time and a place for everything.” Why did he choose to make his point at a ceremony honoring the graduates and their families?
I also can’t help but wonder if the entire class agreed with him. In fact, I doubt many even knew of his plan other than a few classmates really close to him. Seems as though he kept everything “close to the vest,” knowing that he might get shut down. Could this be a bit of self-indulgence on his part? Of course, if he wanted maximum exposure for his point, he sure succeeded.
How about the school officials? One could argue they had every right to shut him down because he intentionally “blindsided” them by going off-script. He chose to do what he wanted to do instead of honoring the previously-arranged agreement (standard procedure at the school).
Many will give this young man a pat on the back for this, highlighting his gusto and fervor. They might also note that the school officials missed a great “teaching moment.” What are we teaching here? What is the real message? Do we tell our youth that rules and authority matter? Or, should freedom of speech be held to the highest importance, and in some circumstances rules and authority don’t matter? If we have a point to make, should we not make it despite circumstances and prior arrangements? It is something to think about here.
All these questions make me wonder about the messages we are sending our youth, and the future implications of these from an aggregate viewpoint. Maybe this is small potatoes in the scope of larger issues going on around us today, but maybe not. Is there an accumulation of messages all around us that is potentially shaping the future society we live in? Is the aggregate message healthy or not? Things to consider. I look forward to any feedback.
FYI, following link includes a video of Kimmel’s interview, plus the text of the speech that was almost delivered.