The queer valedictorian
of a New Jersey high school
said his microphone was cut off after he refused to remove all references to his sexuality
and mental health
issues from his graduation
According to NBC10 Philadelphia
, Bryce Dershem graduated from Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, New Jersey, last Thursday and mentioned his experience with sharing his LGBTQ
identity about 45 seconds into his speech.
“I felt so alone after coming out
as gay freshman year; I didn’t know who to turn to,” he said.
, Robert Tull, approached the lectern and removed the microphone and some papers at this point, as shown in a video of the speech.
“Dr. Tull came up to the stage, grabbed the paper I brought and crumpled it in front of me,” Dershem told NBC10 Philadelphia, “and effectively pointed to the speech he had written for me and told me I was to say that and nothing else.”
Dershem resumed from memory right where he left off after receiving a replacement microphone from another man and a round of applause.
Dershem stated that during the speech-writing process, all references to queerness and mental health were removed, and he was told that graduation was not his "therapy session," prompting him to go off-script.
He said he looked at previous valedictories where students discussed their identities based on culture, group memberships, and interests as part of his research
He felt the school was “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 said.
“Believe in yourself, Class of 2021. Each and every one of you is enough. Each and every one of you can and will change this world. Thank you and congratulations,” Dershem concluded his speech, to loud applause and cheers.
Stardia's request for comment was not met with an immediate response from school administrators.
According to the superintendent of the school district, “no student was asked to remove their personal identity from any speech before or during graduation,” and all speeches are pre-approved.
“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,” said Robert Clautier, superintendent of the Eastern Camden County Regional School District.
Dershem's father posted a video of his son's speech on YouTube
, which drew a lot of attention.
“I am so glad I got to see this in person, very brave and intelligent. as a current eastern student, I am angry at how Dr. Tull handled it. with all of the resources with clubs and such being inclusive, I don’t know why he would cut the mic,” one commenter wrote.
“Wonderful speech by a brave young man; as a parent of an Eastern student, I was horrified that his mic was cut off,” said another.
According to Dershem, he received a standing ovation, which "meant everything to me."