The valedictorian of a New Jersey high school was almost censored and silenced by an administrator. But thankfully, the student’s memorization skills saved the day. Hey, he’s not the valedictorian for nothing!
According to the Miami Herald, the Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, New Jersey was hosting its 55th commencement ceremony last week. But when Bryce Dershem, the valedictorian, started to touch on mental health and his sexuality, the school’s principal attempted to silence him.
“After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone. I didn’t know who to turn to for…” Dershem said in his June 17 speech, which was recorded and then uploaded on YouTube, before his microphone cut off.
Dr. Robert Tull Jr., the school’s principal, approached Dershem on stage. He then removed the microphone and a piece of paper on the podium before whispering to the teenager.
According to an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, Dershem says Tull told him to recite a speech that was “essentially written” for him by administrators. This speech did not reference his sexuality or mental health issues.
“At this point, I’m about to cry,” Dershem told the Inquirer.
But then, someone gave Dershem a second microphone a few seconds later. The administrators were hoping to make the moment seem like an audio issue. But Dershem, thankfully, memorized his speech. So, he continued with it.
“As I was saying…” Dershem said to begin again. Dershem then went on to talk about his mental health and suicidal thoughts after coming out. He did so to express words of support for other LGBTQ students in the crowd or any students suffering from mental health issues.
— Eastern Regional High School Principal (@ECCRSDPrincipal) June 17, 2021
“You are not alone in your fight. With the belief of those around you, you never have to suffer in silence,” Dershem said in the nearly 7-minute long speech. “If you have struggled or will struggle, I believe you and I hope you will believe others too.”
After Bryce Dershem’s story started to spread online, the superintendent of the Eastern Camden County Regional School District, Robert Clautier, said in a statement to NBC News that speeches by students are reviewed and approved.
“No student was asked to remove their personal identity from any speech before or during graduation,” Clautier said in the statement.
Dershem, however, says otherwise.
“I felt as though they were trying to regulate the message I was going to say and take away the parts of my identity that I’m really proud of,” Dershem said.
While it’s sad that this will be the last memory Bryce Dershem has of high school, he’s moving on to Tufts University. There, Dershem will study French literature and women’s gender and sexuality studies. Good for him!