High School Student Denied Diploma For Delivering Own Speech

“I feel like it violated the First Amendment. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say and when I tried to say what I wanted to say, there was consequences.”




On his high school graduation day, North Carolina teen Marvin Wright suffered a student’s worst nightmare — his school refused to hand him his diploma.

As Southwest Edgecombe County High School’s senior class president, Wright was allowed to write a speech and read it aloud at his graduation. However, things took an unexpected turn when he was told he would have to read a four-sentence speech written by school officials instead of the one he had spent two weeks preparing.

“To be honest, the speech that they wrote wasn’t me at all,” Wright said. “I feel like they tried to belittle me in a way because I had more to say. I feel like they couldn’t describe the ways that I felt and the things that I experienced. There were only four sentences and I was like, ‘I really worked hard on this speech and as senior class president, I think I should read my own speech,’ and they was like, ‘No, this is what you are going to read.’”

Wright also said it felt improper that he was told not to read his own speech.

“From what I learned in class, I feel like it violated the First Amendment,” he said. “I couldn’t say what I wanted to say and when I tried to say what I wanted to say, there was consequences.”

According to the student, school officials were supposed to place the written speech in a folder to be left on the podium where all the speeches were to be delivered. But when Wright opened his folder, he saw his own speech had been replaced by the school-issued onee. Left with no choice, Wright took out his cell phone and started reading his speech in defiance.

In a video released by a local news channel, the principal and other staff members can be seen whispering behind Wright, clearly upset he wasn’t delivering the school-sanctioned speech.

“I was nervous because I was on stage, but what was really a distraction was because while I was reading my speech, they was talking behind my back and I was trying to listen to what they was trying to say and also reading my speech. It was just hard,” the student said.

After graduation, students picked up the packages, which included their diploma, report card and transcript. However, Wright’s was missing. He was later informed principal Craig Harris had removed his folder form the stack.

“I only have one chance to graduate from high school and it was really an embarrassing moment,” said Wright.

“My thing to him was to follow your heart,” his mother, Jokita Wright, said. “He put God first. He spoke about parents, his classmates and spoke about his mom.”

“His diploma was taken...it was hurtful not only to him and his family, but to all of us,” said Jada Barnes, a fellow classmate.

The school system gave no specific reason for why they wanted Wright to read their script. Some sources told WRAL News Wright’s speech was too long and did not meet an approved deadline. However, Wright said he didn’t know there was any deadline.

The superintendent of Edgecombe County Schools, John Farrelly, apologized to the student through a voicemail message. But Wright thinks it would have mattered more to him if principal Harris and the senior adviser apologized to him, given that they were the ones who initiated the whole thing.

Wright was finally able to get his diploma two days later after the principal hand-delivered it to his home. The graduate posted his ecstatic reaction on Facebook.

Twitter users also banded together to show support to Wright during the tough two days he was without his diploma.





Banner/Thumbnail Credit: Reuters 

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