Go Ask Mom

Go Ask Mom

Tales of an Educated Debutante: A lesson on free speech on graduation day

Posted June 13

Wright, his class president, read a speech at graduation, but was then not handed his diploma.

Editor's note: Adrian H. Wood, an eastern North Carolina mom, writer and blogger from Tales of an Educated Debutante, originally shared this on her Facebook page where she writes about education issues, among other topics. Wood holds a doctorate in educational research and policy analysis with a minor in curriculum and instruction.

Southwest Edgecombe High is a high school in the town where I grew up, right in the heart of Eastern North Carolina.

Marvin Wright is an outstanding young man and well liked by his classmates and faculty. He was senior class president and in the top ten percent of his 2017 class. He has joined the U.S. Navy and, in the days of stories all about bad teenagers, he is a light in the darkness.

This past weekend, Marvin spoke at his high school's commencement per tradition for the senior class president. During graduation practice, Marvin was instructed by his senior adviser to email his speech so it could be placed at the podium.

The morning of graduation, Marvin was informed he would not be reading his speech, but instead one prepared by the school. Like all good mama bears, his mother went to the school to speak to the principal and her words fell on deaf ears. She was told Marvin would not be reading his speech.

Later that day, Marvin stood at the podium and read the speech, the one he prepared, the one I have read and, truthfully, it was outstanding. He stood proud and strong and defied an administrative blight and exercised his right to free speech with the support of his family, classmates and faculty.

After four years at Southwest Edgecombe, Marvin exited the stage and was denied his diploma. He was told to speak to the principal who hid in his office and Marvin left empty handed. (Read more about what happened next in this WRAL-TV story).

My oldest son is just a sixth grader, but I have tried to imagine how I might feel if he was class president and my whole family had come to cheer on his success, including his right to free speech that someone tried unsuccessfully to overthrow.

This morning, I told Marvin that if I was his mom, I would be awfully proud of him and can't imagine there are too many good people that would disagree. His speech ended with this: "I am no expert in this journey we call life, but we all have the ability to make a difference and to be that change the world needs."

Marvin, I would say you're well on your way.

Adrian H. Wood, PhD, is a mom of four and an N.C. writer, who offers glimpses where satire meets truth, faith meets irony, despair meets joy and this educated debutante escapes the laundry, finds true meaning in graceful transparency regarding education, special needs, and the real life that is not always lovely, but worth sharing.

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