Not every graduation is completely celebratory. On June 3, while delivering her speech, a California high school valedictorian's mic was cut when she began to give a different version of her speech than previously approved by the administration. Lulabel Seitz — who learned she would be valedictorian months ago — decided to edit her speech to mention campus sexual assault after reading a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., she told BuzzFeed News.
On the night before graduation, the 17-year-old told BuzzFeed News that she was searching through speeches online when she found a quote from King:
The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.
"I thought about that a lot, if I’m going to be quiet about this, that's really sad because it’ll just keep persisting," she told the online news outlet on Friday.
So, on June 3, decked in a white graduation robe and mortar board hat, as well as a pink lei and honor cords, Seitz stood behind the podium to deliver her speech at the graduation ceremony on the school's football field. Her speech was filled with familiar callbacks to freshman year and the excitement of starting the next chapter in their young lives.
In her speech, Seitz said she never expected to be valedictorian because neither of her parents graduated from high school. "We’ve all had unlikely dreams and overcome obstacles to achieve them, because adversity isn’t the rare monumental idea we made it out to be in our freshman-year English essays," Seitz told her fellow students. "No, it’s something very common and something we’ve all experienced throughout high school."
After detailing the wildfires that ravaged California last year and the teacher strikes that affected the class of 2018, Seitz's mic was cut at about four minutes into the speech. Seitz said, "We are not too young to speak up, to dream and to create change. Which is why, even when some people on this campus, those same people—," then her mic was cut, according to The Press Democrat, a newspaper in Santa Rosa. Chants of "Let her speak! Let her speak!" briefly echoed through the football stadium before Seitz took her seat in the front row.
Afterward, she uploaded a video of her cut-short speech and a recording of the full speech to YouTube. It's been viewed more than 34,000 times since Seitz posted the video more than a week ago.
"When they cut my mic, I was appalled at them," Seitz later told The Press Democrat.
Seitz said the high school was aware that a student assaulted her during school hours and police took action, but the boy was allowed on campus and to attend graduation, she told BuzzFeed News. In a press release, Petaluma High School Assistant Principal Deborah Richardson said the school would not comment on individual cases. "Due to student privacy issues, we cannot and should not respond with specific information," the statement read in part.
Seitz said her script had to be approved prior to the ceremony, but the decision to change her speech at the last minute wasn't easy. "It wasn’t easy thing to do to get up there and say what I said — or tried to say," she told the San Francisco CBS affiliate.
In the video she later uploaded to YouTube, this was all Seitz wanted to say: "Even learning on a campus in which some people defend perpetrators of sexual assault and silence their victims, we didn’t let that drag us down. The class of 2018 has demonstrated that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream and create change."