Right up until the last minute, Tomahawk High School in north-central Wisconsin did what it could to keep some basic American values out of earshot of people attending a commencement this week.
Cait Christenson had to submit her speech to school officials who didn’t like what she had to say, and told her she could not talk specifically about discrimination, gender inequality and school shootings, apparently for fear people would disagree with her and feel attacked.
Is there anything here that bothers you?
Good Afternoon. Thank you all for attending our Class of 2018’s graduation commencement, and the continued educational support throughout the past 13 years of our lives. I think it’s appropriate to reflect on some of things I have learned, but also, open a conversation about issues that are bigger than ourselves as individuals.
Early in our elementary education, we began discussing the history of slavery and discrimination in our country. As a 7 year old, I was very saddened to know that kids, people like me, were being treated so poorly. The reconstruction amendments were only the beginning of a revolution towards equal rights. Tremendous progress was made during the civil rights movement, yet today, prejudice and discrimination still exist against minority races in America.
Over America’s nearly 250 year existence, women’s rights have progressed from non-voting, housewife members of society to influential voting, workplace powerhouses. That all began with the women’s suffrage movement and 19th Amendment. I am so proud to be among six female valedictorians, the most THS has had in decades, and they’re all strong female leaders. As a young woman, I feel extremely empowered by this progress, yet today, women can’t seem to break through the glass ceiling that promotes wage gaps and the male bureaucracy. When women are harassed, feel violated and aren’t encouraged to stick up for themselves — the blame falls on them, which takes away the most basic right of having a voice, making them feel foreign in their own bodies.
Over the past 9 months, we have seen heartbreaking stories in the news of school shootings that have left innocent students and teachers with their life in someone else’s hands. This issue has gained national attention over the past few months, yet today, as a nation, we are reluctant to confront mental illness and bullying, which has resulted in more deaths than deaths in combat zones in 2018 so far. Students are fearful for their right of an education safely; sadly denied from the power of knowledge.
There are many problems today in society that some people are too afraid to address in fear of sparking controversy and in fear of encouraging acceptance of other’s ideas. We all may be individuals headed on separate paths after turning our tassels this afternoon, but together, as the Class of 2018 nationwide, we can make up entire movements, advocating for change. The Civil Rights Movement to Black Lives Matter, Women’s Suffrage to #metoo, the Columbine Effect to NeverAgain. There are hundreds of problems in the world that we can complain, worry, and be scared over, although there are endless solutions that we as an innovative, driven team, can accomplish to make the world a happier place. As a divided nation, we can put aside our differences and all come together to uplift and accept and respect each other’s opinions.
Instead of avoiding the problem; instead of remaining ignorant; instead of encouraging negative stereotypes and passing slurs throughout our society; instead of punishing the victims; instead of telling others how they should live and express themselves — put yourself in their shoes before passing judgement, incriminating, and disrespecting others. It’s the golden rule we’ve been hearing since kindergarten.
We all have the power to treat everyone with kindness and stand up for the people who need it the most.
Don’t be fearful of expressing what you believe in, and don’t be in fear of talking about social taboos we’re too afraid to admit too. We can make changes in our nation and even around the world, just by promoting positivity, acceptance and equity.
“The reasons I was not allowed to speak opposed exactly what I was trying to get across in my speech: being able to open a conversation civilly, and critically think about and accept other’s opinions and values,” Christenson said in an interview with the Wausau Daily Herald.
She says the school officials treated her with respect — both were her teachers at some point — and there’s simply a disagreement.