This student came out during the best graduation speech of the year
The theme of Evan Young’s 2015 valedictorian speech was all about secrets. One secret he divulged was that he hated doing homework. Another was that he used Sparknotes to finish reading Crime and Punishment. But the secret at the heart of his speech—the one his high school wouldn’t allow him to share—was summed up by Young in two words. “I’m gay.”
The 18-year-old, who has a 4.5 GPA and a scholarship to Rutgers University, was told he couldn’t give his prepared valedictorian speech at his Boulder, Colorado charter school graduation, because he refused to edit out the part where he disclosed his sexual orientation. Principal BJ Buchmann read over the speech and gave Young the edits he needed to make. Young agreed to several of the edits, except for one — the one that meant the most to him.
Young explained to his local newspaper Daily Camera, “My main theme is that you’re supposed to be respectful of people, even if you don’t agree with them. I figured my gayness would be a very good way to address that.”
The school claims they didn’t allow Young to announce his sexuality during his speech “to protect the solemnity of the evening and to preserve and protect the mission of the school.”
Since graduation is supposed to be about celebrating successes, as well as a send-off for students into the next chapter of their lives, it’s confusing why the administration of a school wouldn’t appreciate the importance of a student wanting to come out in such a big and brave way.
Not only did the Buchmann not approve the speech, he allegedly called Young’s father to explain why he found the speech to be inappropriate. In doing so, he outed Young to his father. His sexuality was something Young had not yet mentioned to his parents. “My parents are very liberal. I think they were totally ok with it,” Young said. “But I was not ok with it. I think what it mainly showed is that he didn’t have a lot of sympathy for me, or someone in my position. He didn’t understand how personal a thing it was, and that I wasn’t just going to share it with people randomly, for no reason. I thought it was very inconsiderate for him to do something like that, especially without asking me first.”
We agree 100 percent. Every human is entitled to express who they are in whatever way they choose — no matter how young or old they are.
After all this, Young decided to take a stand. “On the Friday, the day before the ceremony, I had written him (Buchmann) a handwritten letter so that he couldn’t forward it,” Young told the Daily Camera. “I’d told him I’m not going to remove the part where I say I’m gay, because I am. It’s important to me. And I said if he has any questions, he can contact me by email over the next 24 hours or so.” To which Buchmann never did.
But there’s a happy ending to this story. Since Young wasn’t permitted to give his well-deserved speech at his graduation, Out Boulder gave him the opportunity to do so at a fundraiser full of hundreds of people, many of them politicians who personally congratulated him for his bravery.
Democracy Now captured the speech on video and also transcribed it. It’s absolutely worth watching its entirety, but here’s the part that got us right in the heart.
We’re giving a virtual standing ovation to Evan for his perseverance, eloquence and all-around bravery in the face of adversity. No doubt, he’s poised to do some more amazing things in the future.
In honor of LBGT pride month, we want to share your personal essays on the topic of sexual and gender identity. Send your original stories or pitches to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “LGBT Pride Month.”
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