Local News

Edgecombe administrators withhold diploma for student's refusal to read school-written speech

Posted June 13

— High school graduation day should be a celebration, but for one Edgecombe County senior, it is a day he will never forget.

As Southwest Edgecombe County High School's senior class president, Marvin Wright was allowed to write a speech and read it aloud at graduation.

"I really worked hard on this speech," he said.

Wright said on the day of graduation, he was told by school administrators that he would not be able to read his speech. He would have to read one the school wrote for him.

Edgecombe County graduation speaker denied diploma

"I think my classmates would like to hear what I have to say instead of the one you wrote for me," Wright said.

While on stage during the ceremony, Wright said he followed his heart and chose to read his speech instead.

Read Marvin Wright's full speech

In a video, the principal and other staff members are seen talking behind Wright, clearly upset he wasn't following orders given at graduation rehearsal.

"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."

When Marvin Wright left the stage, he discovered the principal had taken his diploma.

"(He said) 'Mom, they took my diploma, they won't give it to me,'" Jokita Wright said. "At that moment I was totally upset. I was upset."

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

Jada Barnes, a fellow classmate, called the principal's actions disrespectful.

"His diploma was taken...it was hurtful not only to him and his family, but to all of us," Barnes said.

The school system gave no specific reason for wanting Wright to recite their simple, short paragraph.

Sources told WRAL News Wright's speech was too long and that he failed to meet an approval deadline. Wright said he was not aware of any deadline.

In a statement to WRAL News, a school spokesperson said there was nothing wrong with the content of Wright's speech.

"The expectation is that all graduation speakers read the speech that has been prepared and placed at the podium...It is very unfortunate that his diploma was pulled and it should not have happened. An apology has been issued to Marvin and his family," the statement said.

Wright said that since it was a last-minute decision to read his speech, he did not have a hard copy and had to read it off his phone. This violated school guidelines.

Wright's principal, Craig Harris, hand-delivered his diploma to his home Sunday afternoon, and the superintendent apologized via phone. WRAL News reached out to school administrators for additional comments, but no additonal information was made availible.

Wright is now headed into the Navy this fall.


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  • Nathaniel Lincoln Jun 14, 4:00 p.m.
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    that makes zero sense FYI

  • Robert Swiger Sr. Jun 14, 2:32 p.m.
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    Great Speech.

  • Patrick Cook Jun 14, 1:39 p.m.
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    I think the administration went to far, but I also think he should have followed the rules. Regardless of what he wrote down, he was told not to read it by an authority figure. Then he is surprised when there are consequences? There have been time that I wanted to do things my way, but I couldn't. Welcome to real life. Shame on the school for being that hard on him though

  • Kelly Paris Jun 14, 12:23 p.m.
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    I have to side with the student here. If it was too long a speech, then they could have asked him to shorten it for time's sake, but somehow they didn't consider that. The administration certainly dropped the ball on this.

  • Daryl Mac Jun 14, 11:49 a.m.
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    I wonder if the Navy will let him refuse directions and do this his way? ... just saying

  • Teddy Fowler Jun 14, 11:07 a.m.
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    Rules are rules... pretty sure its not a good thing to let students disobey them whenever they feel like it.... I think its fair that he didn't get his diploma at the graduation.... but he still got it... he will have a good story to tell in the future...

  • Nicolle Leney Jun 14, 10:38 a.m.
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    A deadline he may not have been told about, according to the article! And it does not say that they originally gave him a word limit. If it was too long, they should have asked him to edit it, not given him that 20-second beyond-generic 5-sentence paragraph. Considering the very conflicting messages coming from the school in response to the event, I don't think he was given a specific deadline that he missed and I don't think he was given a specific length.

    There is a difference between blindly following the rules and legitimately questioning what seems like an arbitrary decision. There was no chance to re-write, no real reason given beyond "too long" but if that was the case, allow the student to edit it. And the "using a phone violated guidelines" defense is just stupid. He only used a phone because he had given the school the hard copy like he was supposed to and they didn't put it in the folder.

  • Wayne Hill Jun 14, 9:14 a.m.
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    I agree with you Nathaniel but the administrations response was a bit too much. Let the young man receive his diploma, but then give him a stern lecture on the importance of following rules. He appears to be a bright young man, he would get the message.

  • Larry Price Jun 14, 7:58 a.m.
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    please post this the next time a student wears a confederate flag on their clothes to school in violation of an order from the school administration.

  • Nathaniel Lincoln Jun 14, 7:17 a.m.
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    Kid failed to follow a direct order from the principal, failed to meet a deadline , failed to follow the rules of the speech length, read a speech off his phone?? He will be a failure in life as well as long as people like the many commenting here continue to encourage disrespectful behavior to authority and general disregard to Basic rules . Many of you have zero common sense on how to raise productive children and clearly have never worked in the school system that cannot operate without Rules. Good lord people