Testing, Testing: Is this Thing On? 


By Jane Weinkrantz


            Graduation ceremonies seem to make excellent webpage content.  Last year, I wrote about Thomas Benya, a young man of Native American descent who was reprimanded by his school district and had his diploma withheld for honoring his heritage by wearing a forbidden bolo tie under his graduation gown. To Thomas, I wanted to say,  “Good for you!”

 This year, the rebel graduate who got my attention is Brittany McComb, valedictorian of   Foothill High School in Clark County Nevada. Brittany had her microphone cut by school administrators when she deviated from the speech they had approved. To Brittany ’s administrators, who are now being sued by Brittany and the ultra-conservative Rutherford Institute, I would like to say, “Good call!”

To Brittany , I would like to say, “Someone should have taught you what a valedictory speech is all about.”

While both Thomas and Brittany were disciplined for acts of self-expression, their situations are quite different.  In Thomas’ case, it was wearing an item of clothing his school district had identified as unacceptably ethnic. However, Thomas rightly thought that he should be able to wear a symbol of his heritage under his graduation gown since he was appropriately dressed in tailored clothing that signaled respect for the ceremony.

However, Brittany ’s situation differs from Thomas’ in that the choice she made involved not only herself but all her classmates and everyone in attendance. You see, Brittany thought it would be appropriate to make her valedictory speech about how Jesus is her personal savior.

 She told CBNnews.com ”I was excited that I had the opportunity to share with my classmates my love for Christ and God and what he's done in my life because it's pretty significant.”  

Clark County school district permits prayer at graduation ceremonies, but not proselytizing.  Concerned that graduates and their families would think the speech reflected the view of the school district, administrators cut six references to God and Christ and two biblical references. Brittany, presumably the brightest student in her senior class, seemed not to grasp that she had been awarded the honor of speaking on behalf of her graduating class; instead, she viewed her valedictory speech as a half-hour of free airtime that it was up to her to fill. After her speech was edited and the references to God were removed, Brittany agreed to deliver the revised speech but then decided to defy the school district and recite the uncut version from memory on graduation day.I decided to memorize my speech,” she told CBNnews.com “I'm going to say it because I'm very convicted (sic) about it. And as an American, it's my freedom of expression.”

Subsequently Brittany told the LA Times:: ”I didn’t know what I was going to do. I did say I would give the revised speech. I regret it. But it wasn’t malicious. I wasn’t thinking, “I’m going to stick it to you to get my free speech.” Christ has abundant forgiveness. I really just wanted to tell my classmates about this light and love in my life and it tore me apart that they (school officials) did not want me to be who I am. It was like they wanted me to lie over who I am. In hindsight I regret not standing up for myself right away.”

However, Christ-like Brittany was hoping to be in delivering His word to her captive audience, she apparently never stopped to consider how her Jewish, Hindu, Islamic, Sikh or even Scientologist (Yes, they have a presence in Nevada) classmates would feel about her speech. Was she representing her graduating class or was she just representing Brittany ? Although I hesitate to speak on behalf of Jesus (We don’t chat regularly, although I’ve heard His dad and George Bush are in close touch), Christ did say in Matthew Ch. 6, “v. 5-6 “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners that they may be seen by men…But when you pray, go into your room shut the door and pray to the Father who is in secret; and who sees you in secret and will reward you.” I would say that could be loosely interpreted to mean, “Don’t make your graduation speech a sermon and put your piety on display for an audience that has no choice but to listen to you.”


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