Freedom of speech is a valuable thing.  Apparently, a principal at a New Jersey high school doesn’t see it that way.  Bryce Dershem, a valedictorian at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, New Jersey, was giving a speech at his school’s graduation ceremony on June 17.  During the speech, Dersham had the microphone turned off and the paper on which he wrote the speech taken from his podium.  This was the reaction by principal Robert Tull, due to the content of the speech.

As you can see in this video... (1:07 into the video) 

Dersham, was just referencing his “self-discovery” when the censorship began.  The words “After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone. I didn’t know who to turn to for support,” Dershem said is when the PA system went silent.  The video also shows principal Tull giving Dersham a working microphone and replacing the speech with what was later referred to as “an approved speech.”

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Of course, the school district tried to save face.  Eastern Camden County Regional School District superintendent Robert Cloutier said students are not asked to remove “their personal identity” from speeches.

“Every year, all student speakers are assisted in shaping the speech, and all student speeches — which are agreed upon and approved in advance — are kept in the binder on the podium for the principal to conduct the graduation ceremony,” Cloutier said.

As graduation approached, Dershem says he tried to consult with the school about how he would speak about his personal journey, with the hopes to help others.  But he was asked to delete any mention of “queerness” and the connected mental anguish that he overcame.

Overcoming seems to be his strong suit, after the principal interrupted his flow, Dershem continued his message from memory, by leading off with the new microphone in hand…”Now, where was I.”

As I would have if I were in attendance, his classmates and their parents cheered him on.  Congratulations Bryce Dershem!

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