These selected instances of privileged students using their limited platforms to bring awareness to the failings of schools, as well as the negative media coverage that often accompanies censorship efforts by the schools, are a small but growing threat to traditional schools in an era when more and more families are recognizing that there are real, meaningful, and accessible alternatives to school. Moving forward we hope to see more students speaking truth to power at graduation, although doing so will ultimately result in the death of the valedictory speech. Even better, would be seeing millions of students recognizing their lack of autonomy, and the lack of an opportunity to experience a meaningful education in the authoritarian, hierarchical, rank-based traditional schooling structure, and choosing instead to opt out of school so that they can engage in self-directed learning.
1. See Dr. Robert Epstein’s book The Case Against Adolescence for an introduction on the extension of childhood into adolescence, and Julie Lythcott-Haims’ book How to Raise an Adult for a glimpse into how unprepared even the highest performing high school graduates are for college and life. https://www.amazon.com/Case-Against-Adolescence-Rediscovering-Adult/dp/188495670X, https://www.amazon.com/How-Raise-Adult-Overparenting-Prepare/dp/1250093635
2. Some schools may allow more than one student to speak at graduation. These are often salutatorians, class presidents, or faculty selected class day speakers.
3. Students who focus on performing along the measures laid out by adults, and outperforming all of their peers, and sticking to the rules and conventions of the institution often do ok in life. They tend to go to college and graduate, and get good jobs. But they rarely change the world because they rarely challenge the status quo. https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/295095
4. Some parents may consider prestigious degrees, prestigious jobs, and financial security to be a worthwhile outcome, but they should consider what someone loses when they go down this path. What is not often considered is how empathy is lost in the competitive process, as well as creativity, emotional and mental well-being, personal relationships, and the ability to find meaning in life. Also, not considered is the reality that if the goal is to be number one, then everyone but one person winds up a failure.
5. My research leads me to believe that remarkable young man is named Jonathan Chu, who graduated in 2016, and likely matriculated at the University of California, Los Angeles. His recognition of how flawed his high school experience was will hopefully allow him to take better advantage of his college experience, and prepare him to create opportunities for the future as opposed to accepting those that are provided to him. Surprisingly, I could find no news articles covering this speech. I did find a cached article that spoke of Jonathan’s views. https://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:tVyv_8grStAJ:https://carolinepalmerwordpress.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/valedictorian-and-salutatorian-selected-for-2016-graduating-class/+&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us
6. The Washington Post did a great write-up of the speech and the motivations behind it. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2017/06/20/a-valedictorian-went-rogue-in-his-final-speech-his-school-tried-to-shut-him-down/?utm_term=.6eff04abcc21
7. Peter, who is heading to Villanova University next year, was invited on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to explain what happened and to finish his speech. What he would have said, had they let him finish, was that he hoped that in the future “[administrators] will begin to prioritize education itself, as well as the empowering of students.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KFuU32EGUJo
8. Erica, who matriculated at the University of Buffalo, posted the full text of her speech on her personal blog: http://americaviaerica.blogspot.com/2010/07/coxsackie-athens-valedictorian-speech.html
9. Terrebonne Parish in Louisiana made news in 2008 when they considered mandating English-only speeches after Louisiana State University bound co-valedictorians and cousins, Hue and Cindy Vo, interspersed lines of Vietnamese in their majority English speeches. Interestingly, Terrebonne Parish is the state’s French speaking stronghold, and schools had punished previous generations of children who dared to speak French at schools. http://www.houmatoday.com/news/20080629/officials-consider-english-only-graduation-speeches, http://www.foxnews.com/story/2008/07/01/official-in-louisiana-french-speaking-stronghold-calls-for-english-only.html
10. Kaitlin Nootbaar, the 2012 valedictorian of Prague High School in Oklahoma, was denied her diploma because she quoted a line from a Twilight movie that included the word “hell.” Despite being denied her diploma, Kaitlin matriculated at Southwestern Oklahoma State University on a full-ride scholarship. http://www.newson6.com/story/19325467/oklahoma-valedictorian-catches-hell-for-graduation-speech
11. In 2013, Harold Shaw, Jr., salutatorian of Wharton High School in Florida had his mic cut after he allegedly went off script on his speech. However, the real motivation may have been that administrators were upset that the University of Florida bound student published a video on his Facebook page documenting the deplorable bathroom conditions at the school. http://www.tbo.com/northeast-tampa/principal-cuts-off-wharton-high-salutatorian-in-middle-of-graduation-speech-20130606/
12. Devan, who was heading to Harvard after graduation, was additionally suspended, and then forced to undergo a psychiatric evaluation in order to graduate. The school took an absurdly literal interpretation of Devan’s statement, "I just want to resolve this peacefully," as he pled his case that he should be allowed to speak at graduation. However, a fellow student suggested that the real reason they barred him from speaking was because he was often “standing up for either the whole class or specific students” when they faced unfair treatment by the school. http://www.nj.com/bergen/index.ssf/2015/06/harvard-bound_valedictorian_i_was_stripped_of_grad_speech_sent_for_psych_eval.html, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zGsVWLtmfjk
13. There are now numerous self-directed learning centers (including Abrome) and democratic schools peppered throughout the country. In areas that do not have such learning centers, or for families who may not be able to afford such options, homeschooling and unschooling remains a viable alternative. http://alternativestoschool.com/articles/list-democratic-schools-resource-centers/