A high school valedictorian said he was "censored" in his graduation speech, which he used to address his sexuality and other personal experiences.
Bryce Dershem, 18, the valedictorian for Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, New Jersey, discussed the speech for the June 17 graduation ceremony with Philadelphia NBC affiliate WCAU.
Video of the ceremony shows Dershem's microphone being cut off early in his speech, as Dershem began to talk about his experience coming out in his freshman year.
The video also showed the school principal, Dr. Robert Tull, walking to the podium to take the microphone and printed copy of the speech from Dershem.
Dershem, who also struggled with his mental health and spent time in recovery for anorexia while in high school, told WCAU that administrators tried to "regulate" the speech during the editing process, and that he was told the speech was not "his therapy session."
"I did feel censored," Dershem said. "I felt as though they were trying to regulate the message I was going to say and take away the parts of my identity that I'm really proud of."
Robert Cloutier, Eastern Camden County Regional School District superintendent, said in an email to WCAU that graduation speeches are meant to connect the speaker's time in the district to a message about the future.
“Every year, all student speakers are assisted in shaping the speech, and all student speeches — which are agreed upon and approved in advance — are kept in the binder on the podium for the principal to conduct the graduation ceremony,” Cloutier told WCAU.
Dershem said he looked at past speeches, which referenced time in extracurricular clubs and talked about personal anecdotes like being the child of immigrants.
Dershem told WCAU the speech in the binder at the graduation was "effectively" written for him by Tull. Instead of reading the approved speech, he brought a copy of his original speech and began to read it, which was when the microphone was cut and Tull came up on the stage to take the microphone and printed copy.
Dershem said the interruption was made to appear like a technical issue. Dershem also said no other presenters had technical difficulties during their speeches.
After Tull approached him onstage, Dershem said he was told to read the approved speech.
"The principal, Dr. Tull, he came up to the stage, and he grabbed the paper that I had brought and crumpled it in front of me," Dershem said. "And pointed to the speech he had written for me, effectively, and told me I was to say that and nothing else."
Dershem was given a replacement microphone, after which he continued to deliver his original speech — this time from memory. The audience showed their support for him during his speech.
"All of a sudden, all of my classmates and people in the audience stand up and gave me a standing ovation," Dershem said, noting that his family and boyfriend were in the crowd. "It meant the world to me."