A New Jersey high school is being criticized online for attempting to censor their valedictorian's graduation speech.
Bryce Dershem who graduated on June 17, shared his experience with high school, self-discovery and mental health. However, he almost didn't get that chance after his microphone was cut off in the opening of his speech.
Despite this setback, Dershem continued and the whole speech was shared online.
In the video above, Dershem begins his speech while wearing a rainbow flag around his graduation gown. However, he barely gets a minute in before they cut him off.
Dershem had just said:
"After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone. I didn't know who to turn to."
With his microphone off, the principal D. Robert Tull walked up and removed the microphone and the paper that had Dershem's speech.
According to Dershem, the principal crumpled up the paper, and pointed to the version of the speech in the binder on the podium. After the principal walked off, a new microphone was brought in for Dershem to give his speech.
However, instead of reading the approved speech, Dershem continued his original speech from memory.
Bryce Dershem is my hero! I’m tired of people trying to say our identities and experiences are somehow inappropriat… https://t.co/PYLaL42llo— Rebekah Bruesehoff (she/her) (@Rebekah Bruesehoff (she/her)) 1624660842.0
@stewardlinda10 @NBCNews It really was, so beautifully put. Everyone within earshot could relate to those words. So… https://t.co/diB7MU81Ax— Kay_luv (@Kay_luv) 1624636189.0
#BryceDershem I am a 56 year-old gay man in Ohio, and you are suddenly my hero. You've an amazing future ahead of… https://t.co/dverzMvobO— Gary Scott (@Gary Scott) 1624847504.0
Dershem's speech was uploaded to YouTube by his father, where it's received support from people around the world.
But even back home in his state, Dershem also received support from New Jersey Democratic Governor Phil Murphy.
To Bryce Dershem – I'm so proud of you for speaking truth to power, and for your resilience and courage. To all of… https://t.co/3lfJfhBqjb— Governor Phil Murphy (@Governor Phil Murphy) 1624741605.0
It's not uncommon for schools to work with and approve speeches by students for graduation. In the course of revisions for his speech, Dershem says all mentions of his mental health and sexuality were removed by the school.
"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."
Dershem says the school tried to make it look like a technical issue, but the principal crumpled up his speech right in front of him.
However, Robert Coutlier, the Eastern Regional High School Superintendent, claimed:
"No student speaker was asked to remove their personal identity from any speech before or during graduation or had their speech stopped for sharing their personal identity".
"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."
He also emphasized the district's commitment to diversity and inclusion.
However, not everyone was buying it.
My alma mater has beclowned itself again https://t.co/UDd3W8pfAa— Alex Clearfield (@Alex Clearfield) 1624538631.0
@DrPhilGoff @JoyAnnReid Publicly attempting to cut off a speech partway through is the best way to ensure people wi… https://t.co/8IeQahSnXp— John1918 (@John1918) 1624740444.0
@NBCNews https://t.co/mdQj4bU6du here’s an article of the same principal refusing to take action of being directly… https://t.co/6DvghPIxT4— Tim Cheffers (@Tim Cheffers) 1624733475.0
Twitter please ask @ECCRSDPrincipal why the principal cut off Bryce Dershem when he said…. "After I came out as q… https://t.co/ZmIqkaG3Du— MommaT (@MommaT) 1624739034.0
Dershem is just happy he got to say his speech, despite the "speed bump."
He told NBC News:
"For the longest time, I never believed I was enough. If I had heard someone say these words when I was younger, it might have helped me."
He hopes his speech can help others feel less alone.