6 Students Who Lost Their Diplomas Over Controversial Graduation Speeches
While some of these students were eventually awarded their diplomas, the content of their speeches was deemed too hot for commencement.
1. Kaitlin Nootbaar
This week the internet is abuzz with the story of a graduating Oklahoma student who was denied her high school diploma, thanks to a slip of the tongue during her valedictory address. It wasn't because she quoted Twilight, which is arguably a more grievous offense than the real problem. She used the word "hell." An approved draft of her speech read "How the heck do I know?" But caught up in the moment, Nootbaar delivered the line uncensored. The Prague High School mascot is the Red Devil, but H-E-double-hockey-sticks probably doesn't make its way into the cheerleaders' repertoire.
Nootbaar's diploma will be withheld until she submits a written apology for the slip, which she has so far refused to do. In the meantime, Nootbaar isn't concerned about it. "I know what I've achieved and the fact that I don't want to give an apology, maybe I'll never get my diploma and that's fine,' she told Matt Lauer on Wednesday.
2. Tiffany Schley
In 2004, Tiffany Schley was valedictorian of the High School of Legal Studies. Her speech was submitted to the principal and rewritten prior to the ceremony, but Schley chose to give her original remarks, which admitted that students had had it kind of rough. There was a shortage of textbooks, too many uncooperative policymakers, overcrowded classrooms, and the school had hired four new principals in as many years. Before she could get to the part about how hard the students had worked to overcome the obstacles, her microphone was turned off and the ceremony went on.
When she arrived at the school the next day to pick up her diploma, she and her mother were escorted off grounds by security and told she wouldn't receive the certificate until she issued a public apology. Mayor Michael Bloomberg spoke out on her behalf, and the chancellor overruled the school's decision. It took another two months -- and a community-organized meeting at a local church -- for Schley to actually receive her certificate.
3. Abe Stoklasa
Some people just can't take a joke.
The valedictorian of Eagleville High's class of 2005 wanted to liven up the ceremony with a funny speech, one that was both personal and amusing. He submitted his draft to school officials beforehand, who requested he remove two lines which they felt spoke poorly of the school's educational standards.
Stoklasa was given the option to remove the jokes or not speak; he chose not to give his address, but eventually his mother and the principal talked him into it. All heck broke loose, though, when it became evident Stoklasa did not intend to use the edited version. His microphone was cut off after he said, “You have given us the minimum required attention and education to master any station at any McDonald’s anywhere. For that we thank you." Attendees never heard the next line, which was, "Of course, I’m only kidding. Eagleville is a fine institute of higher learning, with superb faculty and staff,” according to the original draft. Stoklasa's diploma was denied, and he issued no apologies.
4. Erica Corder
The 2006 graduating class of Lewis-Palmer High School had 15 valedictorians, who were each given a 30-second segment. Corder and another student were given the concluding messages. Drafts of each student's speech were approved by the principal beforehand. During the ceremony, however, Corder tacked on a few lines to hers:
“We are all capable of standing firm and expressing our own beliefs, which is why I need to tell you about someone who loves you more than you could ever imagine. He died for you on a cross over 2,000 years ago, yet was resurrected and is living today in heaven. His name is Jesus Christ. If you don’t already know him personally I encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice he made for you so that you now have the opportunity to live in eternity with him.”
Exiting the stage, she was informed that her diploma would be withheld until she apologized. Corder complied and then filed a First Amendment lawsuit against the school. It was later thrown out because her remarks were school-sponsored and fell under district policy. In 2009 the Supreme Court refused an appeal from Corder.
5 & 6. Eric Dominach and Mike Sebastiano
The co-valedictorians of Middletown High School South's 2012 graduating class gave a joint speech that referenced "Call Me Maybe" and underage drinking, mocked the high turnover of the school's staff, and called out individual students for laughable behavior. The remarks were rejected by school officials before the ceremony, but Dominach and Sebastiano gave them anyway. They were denied their diplomas until each student mentioned by name in the speech was contacted by school authorities to ascertain whether the boys violated the state Harassment, Intimidation & Bullying law. During this lengthy process, the students posted a video of their speech in full on Facebook. Following a Board of Education meeting, the pair were awarded their diplomas.