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Valedictorian’s Speech Prompts Principal to Withhold Diploma

“How the hell should I know?”

With those simple words, an Oklahoma valedictorian found herself in a ridiculous standoff over her high school diploma. Her father is now accusing her principal of “bullying.”

It began when Kaitlin Nootbaar used the above phrase in her speech. She was talking about how many times she had changed her mind about what she wanted to do with her life. ABC News reports that the teen told her parents she drew inspiration from movies including Eclipse, which includes a graduation scene in which the speaker says, “Who the hell knows.”

After her speech, she walked the stage and graduated. But when her dad went to the school to pick up her actual diploma, the principal, he says, shut the door on them, telling them that until his daughter typed “letters of apology” to him, the school board, the superintendent and all of the teachers, she wouldn’t get her diploma.

This may well be one of the pettiest things I’ve ever heard of coming from a school office.

The student’s transcripts are already off to Southwestern Oklahoma State University where she’s now a freshman. Technically, she doesn’t need the piece of paper: her life has gone on, and she obviously didn’t turn the school upside down, either.

She says she doesn’t intend to write those letters of apology.

And why should she? For one thing, these days, hell is hardly a word that should cause such an uproar. It’s tame compared to the kind of language most high school students are exposed to on a daily basis. For another, this principal is no longer entitled to have control of this young woman’s life: she made it through high school and did so with a spectacular record. And third, she put in the hard work and earned that piece of paper.

The principal should be hand-delivering it. With flowers for an apology.

Your Turn:

If this happened to your child, what would you say to the principal?


  1. I’m a teacher and I think it’s not what you say but how you say it. Using the word “hell” might be acceptable to some people but it is considered inappropriate in my classroom. She knew better. However, to withhold her diploma over it is a bit too much. If we allow “hell” then we are lowering the standards of a speech that should have been said with much higher vocabulary considering she was the valedictorian. 

    1.  @audaciouslady I would question how clear the rules are in terms of what language is acceptable. If I were to play Devil’s Advocate here, I would suggest that certain words that were once considered offensive by everyone may not be with a younger generation, and THAT is really the target audience to whom she spoke.
      There was certainly a better way to say it, though.
      Is it realistic to require the valedictorian to submit the speech in advance for approval, or would that only encourage students to go “off script” when they’re actually at the lectern out of some notion of “freedom of speech”? 

  2. I’d prefer my child quoted Shakespeare or Whitman in a graduation speech, instead of Twilight of all things. Still, the principal should hand over the papers and pick the next speaker more carefully.

    1.  @msalakka I think the principal isn’t doing himself or his cause any service in withholding her diploma. One has to wonder if this year’s valedictorian might be taking notes just to make a similar stand.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 28 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.