Oklahoma Valedictorian Denied Diploma for Saying ‘Hell’

When Kaitlin Nootbaar and her father David went to pick up her high school diploma last week, they received a shock. After asking for her diploma, Kaitlin, the valedictorian of Oklahoma’s Prague High School, was told that even though the principal had it, she wasn’t going to get it.

Kaitlin graduated from Prague at the top of her class, was named valedictorian, and was tasked with delivering a speech to her classmates during the graduation ceremony. One portion of the speech dealt with the decisions she had to make about her future — as she is soon setting off to college — and Kaitlin, who’s a big fan of young-adult fiction, drew upon The Twilight Saga: Eclipse for inspiration on how to answer this question.

“Her quote was, ‘When she first started school she wanted to be a nurse, then a veterinarian and now that she was getting closer to graduation, people would ask her, what do you want to do and she said ‘How the hell do I know? I’ve changed my mind so many times,’” he said.

He said in the written script she gave to the school she wrote “heck,” but in the moment she said “hell” instead.

This didn’t prove to be an issue during the ceremony. Her classmates and other attendees laughed at the joke and the speech was otherwise warmly received. Once Kaitlin was done, applause followed her off the stage. So, when Kaitlin and David found out four months later that it was a problem — and a big one — they were both surprised and upset.

David Nootbaar said he is furious that Prague High School is withholding his daughter Kaitlin’s diploma because of her use of the word during the graduation speech in May. “She has worked so hard to stay at the top of her class and this is not right,” he said. “She earned that diploma. In four years she has never made a B. She got straight A’s and had a 4.0 the whole way through.”

The principal told her that she won’t get her diploma until she fulfilled the conditions of her punishment. She was told to write a letter of apology for using an inappropriate word before the principal would consider the matter resolved. Kaitlin, however, doesn’t feel that she should have to do any such thing. She said that the punishment was an overreaction on the part of the school and feels that she did nothing wrong. She is backed by her family, who fully approve her decision to not write the letter.

It’s likely that the whole matter will soon become moot. Even if the copy of the high school diploma isn’t in Kaitlin’s hands by the end of this month, her achievements during the last four years speak for her loudly enough. This fall, she is scheduled to begin her classes at the Southwestern Oklahoma State University where she has enrolled on a full scholarship.

08 21, 2012
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