But Prague High Principal David Smith has apparently decided to punish Kaitlin because in her valedictory address she said that, when people ask her what she wants to be, she responds, "How the hell should I know? I've changed my mind so many times." According to Kaitlin and her father, Smith said there will be no diploma until she tenders a written apology. Kaitlin, bless her spunky heartland heart, has refused.
The manners brigade is sure to point out that Kaitlin was required to submit her speech in advance, and that the text she submitted used the word "heck." She has told reporters that in the excitement of the moment, she used "hell" instead -- in part because it echoes the graduation speech in Twilight: Eclipse.
If that's true, she's guilty of nothing more than bad taste in entertainment, and Principal Smith should be apologizing to her for the poor education she received. But what if this saucy miss actually intended all along to say "hell," and submitted the bowdlerized text to prevent the Principal from stopping her? Surely that makes her the offender, and Principal Smith the victim?
The hell, you say.
Remember, we are dealing with a student who has done everything our system asks of her -- excelled in school, won college admission and a scholarship. In exchange, she is offered a brief moment to say what she thinks. But there's a catch: The censor must approve every thought and every word. She is free to say anything the principal wants her to say.
Every free citizen should know how to outwit a censor, and applaud others who do the same.
If Kaitlin was sneaking "what the hell?" past the censor, it did little injury to the Class of 2012 at PHS -- a school whose official mascot is the Red Devil. There's no call for revolution, violence, free love, or atheism. Any of those might cause a ruckus and bring genuine offense. (Just to be clear, I think a school valedictorian has a right to talk about those things, too, and I wish more did -- but Kaitlin didn't.) If the audience at Prague's graduation is like the ones at graduations I attend, most of them probably didn't even notice the word fly by. And if some people didn't like it, they had every right to criticize Kaitlin. They don't have the right to shut her up.
From the outside, this seems like the age-old battle between a grown-up bully and stubborn kid.
I have huge respect for many people who teach and administer high school. When they do it well, they make everyone's lives better.
But anyone who's ever been in high school knows that some people are drawn to education because they enjoy petty power over people who can't fight back.
Note the disproportion in Kaitlin's punishment: because of a one-word transgression, she loses something she worked four years to get. Note the lack of process here: the decision was apparently made by one man. Note the desire to humiliate: the principal wants a letter apologizing.