School administrators withold graduating student’s diploma after he refused to read the speech they prepared for him
PINETOPS, N.C. — Marvin Wright, president of his high school senior class at Southwest Edgecombe High, was denied his high school diploma simply for reading his own speech.
Despite his two-week preparation, Wright’s high school principal, Craig Harris, told him would be delivering a five-sentence paragraph prepared by the school administrators without any explanation.
When he stepped onto the stage at the end of the commencement ceremony Friday, Wright opened a folder with the school’s prepared remarks:
“I would like to thank all of our friends and family for being here tonight. I would also like to address my fellow graduates one last time before we leave this gym. Although we may all never be in the same room at the same time again, we will always share the memories that we created within these walls. And no matter what we all do after graduation, never forget that this is one place that we all have in common, this place is home. Congratulations graduates, we did it!”
But instead, he took out his cellphone and read his original speech.
He thanked God, the graduates’ family members, the school’s faculty, and his mom.
“This is it,” Marvin said. “We have finally made it.”
Video footage shows the dismayed principal turned and began conversing with another teacher.
The Wilson Times reports that Wright realized he was denied his diploma when a senior adviser informed him of the principal’s decision to remove it. Meanwhile, all of the students lined up to receive their official diplomas following the applause.
Wright especially needed his diploma for his recruiter, the U.S. Navy.
“I was upset and embarrassed,” Wright said. “All of the seniors was walking around with their bright orange folders and I, being the last one in my class, (was) walking out with nothing in my hand.”
The teenager and his mother, Jokita Wright, accused the school censoring a student’s words and retaliating against him by withholding his diploma. The principal responded to her complaint saying that her son had missed a deadline to submit the speech, but Marvin says he never knew about it.
“From what I learned in class, I feel like it violated the First Amendment,” Marvin told the local paper. “I couldn’t say what I wanted to say and when I tried to say what I wanted to say, there was consequences.”
The principal dropped off Wright’s diploma at his home two days after his mother’s complaint, at the superintendent’s request.
But Wright’s mother was still angry.
“He can’t get that day back,” she said. “That was a special moment for me, it was a special moment for him.”
The high school graduate will report for duty on Oct. 10. After serving in the Navy, he hopes to study pediatric surgery.