Graduating from high school isn’t always easy. Graduating as your class’s valedictorian? Harder. Slogging it out with great grades during a global pandemic? Challenging isn’t a big enough word. Bryce Dershem did it, though. But while he was giving his valedictorian address at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, New Jersey, the school’s principal added just one more challenge—he took the speech away. Dershem, 18, was speaking about the struggles of being an out, queer, teen struggling with an eating disorder, when his mic went silent. Principal Robert Tull marched up to the stage, took away the mic, and the speech, too. Tull can be seen in a video posted to YouTube by Dershem’s father holding the mic aloft in one hand while the other hand holds Dershem’s crumpled speech.
Another man brings out a replacement mic, but Dershem is silent until his classmates cheer. Then, the kid who apparently learned a lot about preparation and resilience in high school, recites from memory the speech he says the school told him not to give. “They said that if I used any sort of discussions on LGBTQ matters, that I would just exclude people,” Dershem told the Philadelphia Inquirer. Eastern Camden County Regional School District superintendent Robert Cloutier said Dershem had not been asked to give a different speech. “If that were true, [Tull] wouldn’t have crumpled a speech I worked months on … in front of my face in front of an audience of 2,000 people,” Dershem said. (More uplifting news stories.)