NJ high school’s gay valedictorian says graduation speech was ‘censored’
VOORHEES —The valedictorian at Eastern Regional High School said he was censored by school officials who cut his microphone when he went off script and started talking about coming out as gay during his freshman year.
In a video of the commencement, Bryce Dershem is talking about feeling alone when his microphone goes silent after principal Robert Lull walks behind the podium.
Lull then walks up to Dershem and appears to take a piece of paper from the podium and the microphone.
A tech replaced the microphone and Dershem continues with his speech from memory to the cheers of the audience.
Dershem told NBC Philadelphia that the principal crumpled his script and pointed to the "approved" speech in a binder. The approved speech had removed all of Dershem's references to being gay, battling mental illness and a eating disorder because administrators said commencement is not a "therapy session," Dersham told NBC Philadelphia.
Dersham told NBC Philadelphia that he felt "censored."
Superintendent Robert Cloutier in a statement to New Jersey 101.5 said graduation ceremony is focused on the accomplishments of all students and the graduating class as a whole.
"All student speeches for graduation are coordinated through the high school principal. The principal, working with additional staff as needed, supports students in connecting their educational experiences to a meaningful and inclusive message about the future for all students in the class and for the students’ invited guests," Cloutier said.
The superintendent said that all student speeches are agreed upon in advance and acknowledged Dersham's discussion of mental health.
"The district focused on social-emotional wellness for the year’s reopening plan. The district contracted for third-party clinical support for the mental health challenges of students, parents, and staff during the pandemic, and will continue a third-party contract for the 2021-2022 school year," Cloutier said.