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A Conversation With The Valedictorian Whose Speech Was Censored

Jun 10, 2018
Originally published on June 10, 2018 4:24 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now here is another story that speaks to issues of sexual misconduct. This one started at a high school graduation. Lulabel Seitz was named valedictorian of her high school class, a fitting conclusion to her many accomplishments before she heads off to Stanford University this fall. But the ending was not what she hoped. Her mic was cut off in the middle of her speech, she says, because she wanted to talk about sexual assault allegations at her school.

We wanted to hear more about this story, so we reached out to Lulabel Seitz. And she was kind enough to take time out from celebrating at Disneyland - You can hear it in the background - to join us via Skype. Lulabel, thanks so much for speaking with us, and congrats.

LULABEL SEITZ: Thank you so much for having me.

MARTIN: So you posted a video of your speech on YouTube. The video shows you trying to finish your speech even after your mic was cut off. I'm just going to play a little bit from the event. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEITZ: Even when some people on this campus, those same...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Let her speak.

MARTIN: What were you trying to say?

SEITZ: Well, I was just trying to say that we're not afraid to speak up about issues even if those aren't issues people really want to hear about, including the numerous mishandlings of sexual assault cases at my school in particular and I'm sure at other high schools.

MARTIN: As you might imagine, we reached out to your school administrators to ask them for their views of this. We have not heard back yet. But The Press Democrat reports that the school's assistant principal, Deborah Richardson, said that, quote, "the expectation is that the speech you submitted is the speech you will give," unquote. So you had to submit your speech for clearance and you went off script. Is that what they told you was the reason they cut you off?

SEITZ: That's what they said, but there's actually two parts to that. So one is that to some news places they said they would have let me say these controversial points had I submitted them in my script. But actually, the speeches were selected via like audition, so they just wouldn't have even chosen my speech to begin with. And then the second point is actually a copy of my speech wasn't on the podium at graduation with all the other speeches, so I was actually doing a lot of my speech just on the fly. So had they actually been cutting it because I went off script, they would have cut it a lot before.

MARTIN: Can I ask you, though, to test that theory? Do you think that if you had said what you wanted to say, is there a possibility that they would have approved it and let you say it?

SEITZ: No because they specifically told me not to mention how they handled my sexual assault case and other sexual assault cases in general.

MARTIN: So one reason your story caught our attention, I'll be frank, is that there's been some criticism in some quarters that people your age are unwilling to hear ideas that make them uncomfortable. And I was wondering if this is an example of that in reverse, that your ideas would make the adults uncomfortable so they didn't want to hear it. On the other hand, is it possible that they were worried that you'd libel somebody, that you would name somebody and they would have to clear - clean it up?

SEITZ: Well, I think they just didn't want to hear. And the reason I don't think they thought I would name names is because I kept saying some people. They should know that I wasn't naming names 'cause so I was just saying some people, which was vague.

MARTIN: Well, before we let you go, your speech was centered on unlikely dreams. Could you tell us a little bit about your story?

SEITZ: My grandparents on my mom's side were immigrants from the Philippines. And on my dad's side, there's just my grandma, who's a single mom. And then neither of my parents actually completed high school, like, they left early and went back and got their GEDs. And then they didn't go to college, obviously, because they needed to support the family. So I've never had a tutor or somebody like telling me do your homework or anything like that. So I didn't think I would be valedictorian just based on that.

MARTIN: That's Lulabel Seitz. Lulabel, thank you so much for speaking with us, and congratulations to you. And I bet we'll hear more from you.

SEITZ: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.