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Bryce Dershem, the Eastern Regional High School valedictorian in Voorhees, has moxie. When administrators were reviewing his valedictory speech they told him to remove all personal references because, said Superintendent Robert Cloutier in an email to NBC10, graduation speeches are supposed to be “inclusive messages about all students and their guests.”
In other words, the usual pablum.
Bryce was determined to go beyond that. When it his time to stand before the graduating class, instead of reading the administration-sanctioned speech he went back to his original draft, which touched on his coming out as queer and his experiences with mental illness and eating disorders. With a gay pride flag draped across his graduation gown, he began, “After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone. I didn’t know who to turn to.”
Right then Superintendent Cloutier, according to Bryce, “came up to the stage and grabbed the paper I brought and crumpled it in front of me. He pointed to the speech he had written for me, effectively, and told me I was to say that and nothing else.”
Bryce had other ideas. After securing another microphone, he continued his speech–this time from memory because he no longer had the paper in front of him—while his fellow students, his boyfriend, and his family cheered him on.
Bryce told NBC10, “I did feel censored. 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.” He views the interruption as “ a direct attack on his sexuality and victory over mental health challenges.”
He said “he sees the interruption as a speed bump, but not a detour, on his journey to inspire other to be unapologetically themselves.”