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After Student Reads Graduation Speech He Spent Weeks Preparing, School Withholds Diploma

A student received his high school diploma two days after his peers for reading a nonschool-provided graduation speech, but the superintendent says the document never should have been withheld in the first place.

Craig Harris, principal of Southwest Edgecombe High School in Pinetops, N.C., gave senior class president Marvin Wright his diploma Sunday, June 11, but the student said Harris didn’t seem remorseful.

“He handed my diploma and he said, ‘If your mom has got any questions, just give me a call,’ and just walked off,” Wright told The Wilson Times. “No apology or anything.”

Wright was prepared to give a speech, which he had been working on for two weeks, at graduation Friday, June 9, The Washington Post reported. Instead, Harris told Wright the student would be giving one prepared by administrators.

“I felt robbed of a chance to say my own words,” Wright told the Post.

At the urging of his mother, teacher and peers, Wright decided to ditch the five-sentence paragraph and recite his own speech instead of the school’s, which was in a folder under the podium.

“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 read from his cell phone. “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.”

Harris swiftly turned to another staff member and whispered with a look of displeasure. When Wright went to collect a folder containing his diploma after the ceremony, his senior adviser told him Harris removed it from the stack.

“I was really hurt and embarrassed, basically humiliated,” Wright said.

Edgecombe County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly left a voicemail with Wright Monday, June 14 apologizing about the incident, according to The Wilson Times. He explained Wright’s speech content wasn’t a problem, it was that he didn’t give the “prepared and practiced speech” at the ceremony. Farrelly cited the student’s cellphone use as another issue.

Wright told The Washington Post he got approval from his English teacher for the speech, which he got no guidance on and used online videos and speeches from the previous year for reference.

“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.”

Wright told the paper he was appreciative but would have preferred an apology from his senior adviser and the principal “because they were the ones that caused it.”

The 18-year-old is preparing to enter the Navy in the fall, where he’ll become a hospital corpsman.

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