Valedictorian’s speech calling for kindness too hot for Wisconsin school

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.

Thank you.

“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.

  • Jay T. Berken

    “apparently for fear people would disagree with her and feel attacked.”

    When did we become such a PC culture…

    • Wouldn’t the people who feel attacked be misogynists, racists, and mass shooters?

      That’s the part I don’t get.

      Why should they be accommodated?

      • lindblomeagles

        Terrific question Bob. Let’s ask the school.

  • The school would have been happy with an inspirational speech about success and achievement and moving onward and upward and preferably a reference or two to notable alumni and major corporations, along with profuse gratitude to the school and teachers, parents, and the school board. Actual thoughtful commentary with a prescription for civility – not so much.

    • tarry_on

      A corporate poster, in other words. Blah.

  • Jerry

    See, this is what happens when you pick the most thoughtful, intelligent, and involved kid to be the speaker.

  • Jack

    They can’t handle reality.

  • crystals

    I was so very proud to hear our two graduation speakers last week – both immigrants to this country – speak loudly and proudly about their identity, the current state of our nation, Black Lives Matter, their families, Dora the Explorer as a metaphor for life, and so much more. They were amazing and we were lucky to have them as students and as representatives of our community.

  • AmiSchwab

    the speech doesn’t fit walker’s rules so the speech will not be heard. par for america now a days

    • theoacme

      More like Amerikkka…see the Pittsburgh Poste Volkischer Beobachter for Trump’s RAGA (five dozen levels more evil than The Handmaid’s Tale)…

  • Sonny T

    She gets an A for the subtle political shading. The speech is a list of progressive shaming points. I might agree with them, but they have no place in a commencement speech.

    • Love? Not killing people? Not being racist? Not treating women as personal playthings? OK

      • Sonny T

        Conservative talking points would be just as honorable. Hard work. Responsibility. Respect for law. But a speech that is little more than a compendium of these wouldn’t be right, either.

        • If the speeches are to be a recitation of cliche and trite high school bromides, why let the valedictorians speak at all? Every year someone can just read whatever speech the class of 1961 gave.

          • Sonny T


            Each side has co-opted talking points, unfortunately, and I think this is what nixed the speech.

          • Hard to believe there are no law abiding, white supremacists hating, hard working, women respecting, responsible peace loving parents raising high school kids these days but I guess not. God bless the part of America that everyone’s side agrees with, which apparently is very little.

            E.pluribus us against them.

          • What does it mean to co-opt long stated American values? Doesn’t that mean you embrace them?

          • Sonny T

            Co-opt means you take certain values, brand them as your own, and insist only you are the real and true owner.

            Both sides have long done this. For Progressives it’s Justice, Inclusion, Fairness. For Conservatives it’s Responsibility, Country, Family. Never mind that pretty much every American supports any and all of these values. For generations politicians have been happy to divvy them up and blast away from well-defended trenches.

            Pretty silly, huh?

            The speech had to go because the sudent spoke ONLY from the Progressive trench, using Progressive points familiar to all. By doing so she subtly politicized her speech, and in essence gave “the finger” to the other side.

            Had a Conservative tried to pull this off the result would be the same. Or one would hope so.

          • Where did the valedictorian state that her values are hers and hers alone?

            If people are rejecting American values because their political opponents hold them, doesn’t that mean that the political opponents were correct and only that side holds them?

          • Sonny T

            The valedictorian doesn’t state that the values are hers alone. She doesn’t have to. Political tradition has already done it for her, as each side attempts to bludgeon the other with their own tried and true talking points.

            And Americans are not rejecting certain values just because they are the talking points of the other side.

            No one rejects the idea of liberty, or family values. No one rejects the idea of equality. But use the words “family values” in Progressive circles and they will be rightfully suspicious. “What?” they’ll say. “You’re coming at us with that same worn-out Republican crap?” Use the word “equality” among Conservatives and you’ll get the same response. “How dare you? We are not racists.” Etc. etc.

            We would laugh, if we weren’t so busy ripping each other.

    • Casey Finnerty

      I am puzzled when people accuse political parties of co-opting what should be universal values. Can the values in this speech only be claimed by one side of the political spectrum? I would think they would be political only if one side of the political spectrum supported them and the other did not.

      In general, I think it is very appropriate to address current topics in a commencement speech if the goal is a call to continued growth. That said, I think the paragraph that needed work was the “Instead of… put yourself” portion. As written, it reads as though the speaker assumed the audience was ignorant, racist, etc., while she was not. Shame can be healthy sometimes, but this reads like finger pointing, which is rarely effective. If the speaker had included herself (e.g. … we should put ourselves…”), it would have seemed more like a shared self-examination, which I think would have been more on point and better received.

      • Sonny T


  • Barton

    It reminds me of this article/blog:

    “This whole notion that Democrats are under a special onus to be polite as well as this emphasis on civility in the face of human rights violations… this is actually an extension of a culture that begins in many white families. Let me explain……”

  • Jennifer Hawn Ruid

    If you haven’t read her entire speech, you can not assume the content of her speech was politically influenced. I assure you it wasn’t. The message of her speech is the power of unity against societal challenges. Cait’s willingness to sacrifice her moment and unique lifelong memory to stand at the podium and speak to her peers is the story. Cait’s passion for her message is the story. I feel that those who relate this exceptional young woman’s speech into political minutia are unwilling to accept the true simplicity of the moral of this story: BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER. HELP THOSE IN NEED. SPEAK YOUR TRUTH. WE CAN MAKE THE WORLD A BETTER PLACE.