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Principal stops 'queer' valedictorian's unauthorized LGBTQ speech, takes paper from him. But student disobeys again — and recites speech from memory.

Image source: WCAU-TV video screenshot

Officials at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, New Jersey, asked valedictorian Bryce Dershem to remove a gay pride flag draped over his gown at the graduation ceremony earlier this month, WCAU-TV reported.

But the station said Dershem didn't comply. It was a sign of things to come.

What happened?

Like other high school valedictorians who've made headlines recently, Dershem had it in mind to go off script and read his own speech rather than the one the school approved.

"After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone," Dershem said from behind the microphone during the June 17 ceremony. "I didn't know who to turn to."

At that point, principal Robert Tull Jr. was seen on video walking behind the stage — and seconds later Dershem's mic was cut off. Tull then walked up to the podium and took the mic — and allegedly the written copy of Dershem's unauthorized speech.

The valedictorian told WCAU that Tull actually "grabbed the paper that I brought and crumpled it in front of me in his hand," although video doesn't show Tull crumpling the paper in question. Dershem added to the station that Tull also "pointed to the speech he had written for me, effectively, and told me I was to say that and nothing else."

Image source: WCAU-TV video screenshot

But instead, Dershem chose once again to not comply and began reciting his speech from memory, which dealt with his coming out and experiences with overcoming mental illness and eating disorders.

What did the school district have to say?

Robert Cloutier, superintendent of Eastern Camden County Regional School District, told WCAU that graduation speeches are expected to connect the speaker's educational experiences to an inclusive message about the future of all students in the graduating class and their guests.

"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," Cloutier told the station.

But Dershem said administrators during the speech editing process made him take out all mentions of his queer identity and going to treatment — even telling him that the graduation ceremony was not "his therapy session," WCAU reported.

Image source: WCAU-TV video screenshot

"I did feel censored," Dershem told the station. "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."

The valedictorian added to WCAU that Tull's interruption of his speech was made to appear as though it was a technical issue — but that there were no technical issues with other presenters. In addition, the station said Cloutier's statement didn't explain what happened to the microphone.

Still, Dershem told WCAU his classmates, family, and boyfriend cheered him on during his speech and congratulated him afterward.

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