Student Denied Diploma For Saying “Hell” In Commencement Speech

Kaitlin Nootbaar via Facebook

As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Such is the case in Prague, Oklahoma.

PRAGUE (NewsOK) — David Nootbaar said it’s sadly ironic that his daughter, Kaitlin, was denied her diploma for saying “hell” in her valedictorian speech for Prague High School, where the mascot is the Red Devil.

“In church on Sunday they say ‘hell’ at least four times,” Nootbaar said, standing across from the school district’s office, which includes an electronic marquee showing a small demon holding a pitchfork.

…[Kaitlin wrote on Facebook Monday] “First off, I would like to thank everyone who is backing me on this, especially my friends and family. And to those who don’t agree with me, that is fine also. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” she wrote in a Facebook post Monday.

David Nootbaar said his daughter used the word in reference to not knowing what she was going to do after graduation. “Who the hell knows?”

KSDK reports:

When tasked with writing the graduation speech, her dad said she got her inspiration from the movie “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse”.

“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’” Nootbar explains.

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

Nootbaar said the audience laughed, she finished her speech to warm applause and didn’t know there was a problem until she went to pick up the real certificate this week.

“We went to the office and asked for the diploma and the principal said, ‘Your diploma is right here but you’re not getting it. Close the door; we have a problem,’” Nootbaar said.

The principal told Kaitlin she would have to write an apology letter before he would release the diploma.

The only purpose being served here is the petty spitefulness of a principal drunk on power. The only authority the school has is to withhold a piece of paper; they are barred by state law from denying Kaitlin her official transcript that shows her completed courses and graduation. Katlin was accepted to a local college with a full scholarship, which makes the situation all the more inane.

Perhaps Kaitlin will learn the lesson that those much older than her already know. If you go on to graduate from college know one will ever care about your high school career again…

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Posted by on August 21, 2012.
Filed under Education.
Tagged with: .
Doug Johnson is a news junkie and long time blog reader, turned author.

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  • Cecil Bordages

    Fire the principle!

    • mnich13

      Fire the principal. No diploma for you!

    • ben

      Out of a cannon!

  • http://twitter.com/dfbaskwill David F. Baskwill

    I don’t even know where my high school diploma ended up. I never even opened the envelope it came in. If I was her, I would say “Thank you very much Mr. Principal, you can keep the diploma for me.”

  • JWH

    This girl should:

    1) Attend college
    2) Obtain a psychology degree
    3) Return to the high school
    4) Ask the principal if he lords his prerogatives over students because he is compensating for … inadequacies … in other areas of his life.

  • herddog505

    Allow me to be contrarian: Is this not another example of defining deviancy down? What if she’d said, “How the f*ck do I know?” Is that acceptable? Should the principal shrug his shoulders at that? Where DO we draw the line? What ARE the standards of language and behavior that we want people – kids in high school – to adopt?

    A written apology seems perfectly reasonable to me; she’ll get her diploma and her life will go on after this minor speedbump, and perhaps she’ll be a bit wiser. Writing as one whose foul mouth has not exactly been a career booster, I say that teaching people to suit their language to audience and event is not a bad thing.

    • jim_m

      The diploma is conditioned on completing the necessary coursework with a passing grade, not on kissing the Principal’s ass. He has the right to ask for an apology (she may indeed owe him one) but not to withhold the diploma.

      • herddog505

        David RobertsonIn this case, the audience didn’t have a problem with the word that Nootbaar used.

        We have Nootbaar’s word for that, though “hell” is sufficiently well-used as to be about as innocuous and inoffensive as “heck”.

        And is that the standard? That any behavior or language in any situation is OK if “the audience (allegedly) doesn’t have a problem with it”?

        jim_mThe diploma is conditioned on completing the necessary coursework with a passing grade, not on kissing the Principal’s ass.

        Would it be reasonable to say that your issue is NOT that she was punished, but that the punishment was excessive?

        And is it REALLY “kissing the Principal’s ass” to not use bad language during a commencement address?

        • jim_m

          I would characterize it as inappropriate instead of excessive but otherwise, yes.

          I think that it is kissing the Principal’s ass when he is abusing his power to force an apology. There are better ways to do it. He forfeits his point by being overbearing and abusing his position. He should have invited her into his office, explained why he thought she was wrong to use that language, admonished her to do better in the future and given her the diploma. I’ll bet she would have given a willing apology.

          • herddog505

            That seems reasonable.

    • http://www.wizbangblog.com David Robertson

      In this case, the audience didn’t have a problem with the word that Nootbaar used. It was just the principal.

    • JWH

      You are completely wrong, Herd. I don’t care if she recited, verbatim, George Carlin’s Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television and sang “Sodomy” from Hair. The principal has no more right to withhold her diploma than a DMV clerk has to withhold your driver’s license because you hurt his feelings. Withholding the diploma does not lie within his discretion.

      • JWH

        (Of course, if you ask me, the real scandal is that there’s a graduation ceremony in the first place. Waste of taxpayer dollars for an utterly meaningless bit of pomp.)

      • herddog505

        I disagree.

        Public school students are, for all practical purposes, minors who are handed over to their teachers and principals who serve in loco parentis. As such, the school staff are given a fair amount of authority – rather arbitrary authority – with regards to establishing and enforcing standards of behavior (as I learned at the cost of pain in the billowy portions while in junior high school).

        It may well be that the school has something in its rules about bad language, which would apply especially to a high-profile public event such as a graduation ceremony. Now, I think that the principal might have handled the situation better (see jim_m‘s comment), but I also think that this was a clear case where he could and SHOULD have exercized his authority. This is therefore not a case of the principal being petty over hurt feelings, but rather of doing (perhaps OVERdoing) his job.

        As for the comparison of the DMV clerk, I suspect that they CAN withhold your license if you use foul language to them, and likely could sic the police on you to boot (this is, I believe, a Class III misdemeanor in No. Carolina).

        • JWH

          You seriously err here. If the principal had ejected her from the ceremony, he would have been well within his authority. But his authority ended when this student graduated. She is no longer under his authority. Period.

          • herddog505

            That’s a reasonable argument. However, I suggest that the public humiliation of bing ejected from her graduation ceremony would be a bit worse than being made to write an apology in the principal’s office after the fact.

          • JWH

            Whether the humiliation is worse or better is irrelevant … what is relevant is what lies within the principal’s discretion.

          • herddog505

            I suggest that his “discretion” is not at all well-defined except as a matter of custom and tradition, and that custom and tradition give him wide and arbitrary power. I also suggest that writing an apology is not an especially onerous punishment.

            I ask you the same question I asked jim_m: would it be reasonable to say that your issue is NOT that she was punished, but that the punishment was excessive?

          • JWH

            Your summary of discretion is a bit off.

            A public official has “discretionary” duties and “ministerial” duties. A “ministerial” duty is simple and definite. For example, if a person meets the criteria for a driver’s license, the DMV clerk issues that person the license. A police officer must provide medical care to prisoners under his custody. A “discretionary” duty is one in which public official has, well, discretion. Such things include, for example, deciding whether a road is to be repaved or whether to provide prisoners with live accordion music, Vanilla Ice recordings, or no music at all. There’s a bit of custom and tradition there, but most of it is rather well set down in law.

            In terms of being “punished,” I do have a problem with the principal punishing this student, rather than the extent of her punishment. The principal has no jurisdiction over the student once she has graduated school and when she is absent from school property. And even if she is on school property, withholding her diploma is not a “punishment,” but a case of a public official refusing to execute his duties.

            Now, if he wanted to write to her college to suggest they yank her scholarship over this, fine. If he wants to tell her in no uncertain terms that she was rude and the word “hell” was unacceptable, fine. But I don’t see anything here that suggests he has the power to withhold her diploma in a fit of personal pique. She is no longer his student.

            Which brings me to another point. If we unmoor this from the legalistic issues, let’s consider their relative status. After her graduation, she is no longer his student. Rather, she is a younger adult. How would we perceive this situation if an older adult withheld something valuable from a younger adult because he was offended at something she said? I suspect we’d be cracking more than a few jokes about old men yelling at clouds.

          • herddog505

            I think that this is less a matter of the principal being offended than the student engaging in inappropriate behavior. This gets back to my original point about defining deviancy down: where DO we draw the line?

            At any rate, as I see it, the major objection here is not that the principal punished the girl, but rather that he went a bit too far. That seems a reasonable objection, though I am not especially bothered by his actions, myself.

          • JWH

            What do you mean “we,” Kemo Sabe?

            Norms change over time. It is inevitable.

          • herddog505

            “We” as in society, the voting public, parents who try to impress upon their children certain standards of morality and behavior, adults who may have from time to time responsibility for children (Little League coach, Scout troop leader, teacher, etc.).

          • herddog505

            “We” as in society, the voting public, parents who try to impress upon their children certain standards of morality and behavior, adults who may have from time to time responsibility for children (Little League coach, Scout troop leader, teacher, etc.).

          • JWH

            What do you mean “we,” Kemo Sabe?

            Norms change over time. It is inevitable.

          • herddog505

            I think that this is less a matter of the principal being offended than the student engaging in inappropriate behavior. This gets back to my original point about defining deviancy down: where DO we draw the line?

            At any rate, as I see it, the major objection here is not that the principal punished the girl, but rather that he went a bit too far. That seems a reasonable objection, though I am not especially bothered by his actions, myself.

          • Commander_Chico_Cognoscente

            First, Nootbaar means “nut bar” in Dutch. That’s a tough name already, now she’s going to live this forever in Google Hell, herself. Kaitlin Nootbaar – not as if her name was Jennifer Smith.

            The use of “hell” is not where to draw the line – the problem with all undefined restraints of speech.

            If she unleashed some obscenity laden tirade full of Carlin’s Seven Words she should have been sanctioned, most appropriately by a complain from the principal and media coverage resulting in Google Hell. But “hell?” Clearly a nootbaar principal.

            I also doubt the principal’s legal authority to deny a diploma, the requirements of which are set by law.

    • JWH

      Just for funsies, let’s turn to the Huffington Post, which has helpfully aggregated a few more incidents of students getting sanctioned for graduation conduct.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/06/anthony-cornist-popular-h_n_1573901.html?utm_hp_ref=education&ir=Education

    • JWH

      Just for funsies, let’s turn to the Huffington Post, which has helpfully aggregated a few more incidents of students getting sanctioned for graduation conduct.

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/06/anthony-cornist-popular-h_n_1573901.html?utm_hp_ref=education&ir=Education

  • 914

    I say the hell with Obama pretty much daily!! Grab a megaphone and post it, shout it, make it the credo !

    I offer no apology and want this clown kicked out of the center ring..

  • 914

    What the HELL!! She’s pretty and white! That’s a crime among the leftist egg headed fools!

    HELL HELL HELL HELL HELL ‘

    Sue ME ass clowns of academia..

  • UOG

    From the news article it seems that the crux of this issue is that the Principal requires that he approve the text of each speakers address. Nootbaar didn’t deliver the address the principal approved, she changed one word. The principal asked for a private apology.

    1) The Principal is within his rights to request an apology, but using coersion to extract an apology is out-of-bounds. “Asking” for an apology while threatening with a “stick” is abusive behavior.

  • Commander_Chico_Cognoscente

    Prague, OK, that was the town in Footloose, right?

  • http://www.outsidethebeltway.com rodney dill

    School Motto: Developing the minds of free thinkers and free speakers… but not too free.

  • UOG

    From the news story this all seems to hang on the fact that the Principal insists upon signing off on everyone’s text before their address is given. Nootbaar departed from her written address by changing one word. The Principal feels he is due an apology (written).

    The Principal is within his rights to feel he was due an apology and even to ask Nootbaar for the apology. But he’s way over the line in using coercion in trying to obtain the apology. He should be brought before his supervisor, counseled over what would have been the proper handling of such a situation, warned that this was a serious infraction of behavior and a record of all the above (which he signed) placed in his employee file. Anything less is an offense to the community and dereliction of his supervisor’s responsibilities.

    • UOG

      P.S. He now owes Nootbaar an apology along with her diploma.

    • Phil Snyder

      The School District should withhold his next paycheck – pending a written apology to the School Board, the Town, and the Student for going way out of line. He has withheld something she rightfully earned (and earned well, if she was the Valedictorian) and the school district is whithholding something the Principal rightfully earned.

  • ken

    that principle is a idiot, or should i say hell of a idiot.

  • john4carter

    She should have said “Go to hell and keep your stupid paper!!! ” I can get my transcripts and create my own diploma paper with Microsoft Word in 1 hour.

  • http://www.facebook.com/dave.lefevre Dave LeFevre

    There are cases like this all the time that don’t hit the media. This type of psychology is seen in many if not most high school administrators.

  • 914

    The hell with this caption contest stuff..