School withholds diploma after student refused to read their prepared speech

Marvin Wright worked on his speech for two weeks for graduation, however, on the day of graduation, he was handed a single paragraph prepared by the school.

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Marvin Wright, the president of his high school senior class, worked on his speech for two weeks for graduation and was putting the final touches on it at 5 in the morning on the day of the ceremony.

However, on the day of graduation, Wright was handed a single paragraph prepared by the school that the principal of Southwest Edgecombe High, Craig Harris, said he was supposed to read instead.

“I felt robbed of a chance to say my own words,” Marvin told The Washington Post.

His mother, along with his friends and peers, encouraged him to read the speech he had written anyway, so he stepped up to the podium and pulled out his cell phone to read a copy of his original speech rather than the speech in the folder in front of him.

As he spoke about the journey from elementary school to middle school to high school, he thanked God and family members and celebrated the monumental achievement that everyone there had pulled through.

“I am no expert in this journey we call life, but we all have the ability to make a difference and to be that change the world needs,” Wright said. “The past 13 years have equipped us for a time as this to stand bold in who we are. So I say to my classmates, cherish these last few minutes we spend here and the memories we have created and get ready for the journey ahead.”

However, while Wright was giving his speech, the principal turned to have a whispered conversation with another staff member, and when Wright crossed the stage, he was not given a diploma.

“All my friends were outside with their big yellow folders taking pictures and I was still inside, trying to get my diploma,” Wright said. “I was really hurt and embarrassed, basically humiliated.”

His mother, Jokita Wright, was livid and complained to the principal that the school was censoring a student’s words. The principal said that Wright had missed a deadline to give his speech, though Wright said that he didn’t know anything about a deadline and that he was given no instruction on how to write his speech, relying on the previous year’s president instead.

Two days after graduation, Wright finally received his diploma when the principal showed up at his house and handed it to him, saying, “If your mom has any questions just give me a call.”

On Monday, Edgecombe County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly called to apologize.

“I have communicated with the family to apologize on behalf of the school,” Farrelly said in a statement to the Wilson Times. “The diploma never should have been taken from the student.”