School Principal Interrupts Valedictorian’s Speech When They Bring Up Their Queer Identity
Bryce Dershem, an 18-year-old valedictorian, was indiscriminately interrupted after he made statements about his queer identity during a graduation ceremony at Eastern Regional High School.
The principal at the New Jersey high school, Dr. Robert M. Tull, walked up the makeshift stage, turned down the microphone level, and grabbed the hard copy of Derchem’s notes. He then proceeded to signal for the teenager to be handed another microphone after detaching the one on the lectern.
Disrupted After the First Few Paragraphs
Like any valedictory speech, Dershem started by acknowledging his colleagues, parents, and other guests present at the ceremony. However, what he said next led to a disruption that no one expected.
Dershem next confessed that he had a difficult time going public with his queer identity in the first year of high school. At this point, the principal got out of his seat.
An Infuriated Principal
Spectators at the ceremony saw and even recorded Dr. Tull calmly proceed to the rear of the stage, as the microphone the young chap was speaking into was silenced.
Dr. Tull then reappeared and approached Dershem on the podium. Of course, the principal tried to pass his message discreetly to the teenager, but spectators could deduce what transpired between the two.
Dershem Makes an Official Statement
After the ceremony during interviews with NBC and The Washington Post, Dershem divulged what happened during his brief on-stage interaction with Principal Dull.
Though someone else would later bring a replacement microphone for Dershem, members of the audience could tell that whatever Tull said to him left the teenager flustered.
Your Speech's Not Good Enough!
Dershem’s claims during the interviews were substantiated by video recordings from the graduation ceremony. It was revealed that Dr. Tull was trying to impose a speech that had been crafted by school administrators on the young valedictorian.
According to Dershem, he was shaken that day but didn’t budge—he proceeded to deliver the speech he had committed to memory.
This is ‘Not a Therapy Session’
Apparently, Dershem and school administrators had been held in a standoff for about a week before the graduation ceremony. He had presented his speech for review like every valedictorian is expected to do, but it was edited heavily.
Though the administrators did not mention anything outrightly about his queer identity, they did say something along the lines of the speech “not being a therapy session.”
The Principal Disguises His True Intentions
Although Principal Tull made his actions during the valedictory speech look like a technical glitch, that was not the case.
Regardless, Dershem, who was left in deep passion by the principal’s actions, proceeded to deliver his speech nonetheless, from memory, after his personal copy was confiscated by Dr. Tull.
Speaking Words from the Heart
The COVID-19 lockdown was a trying time for Dershem and his classmates, as they had to self-isolate and take classes from home. The teenager made it known that the effects of the lockdown were severe for him as he had been a lonely student since freshman year.
“Part of our identity, our year, our struggle is 2021,” Dershem told his classmates from the stage. “We’re still here though. We adapted to something we never thought possible.”
Dershem’s Classmates Could Relate to His Speech
In the controversial valedictory speech, Dershem mentioned that he had been treated for anorexia and depression during the lockdown and even had suicidal thoughts. However, he overcame the struggles through resilience.
Dershem’s graduating class could relate to the message in his speech, and cheered him on till the very end.
Flying the Pride Flag Gathers an Outpour of Support
Dershem’s school administrators also raised objections about his clothes. He had a pride flag draped over his graduation gown, which he kept on throughout the speech.
After videos of what transpired during his speech appeared on the internet, there was a massive backlash against the principal and other administrators at the school.
Non-admittal Instead of an Apology
Robert Cloutier, superintendent of Eastern Camden County Regional School District, granted an interview to NBC discussing the debacle.
He mentioned that school administrators are required to assist valedictorians in crafting quality speeches. However, he refuted the claim that any school administrator under his jurisdiction compelled the student to remove their gender identity from the speech.
The Incident Goes Viral
The issue went viral on social media, and several notable people stepped forward to show their support for Dershem in the face of the discrimination he experienced.
For example, Governor Phil Murphy took to X (formerly Twitter) to voice his displeasure about how the young valedictorian was clearly bullied for being bold enough to share his identity.