A Pennsylvania high school principal’s decision to switch the mic off on a valedictorian’s unapproved speech has, surely, by now, earned a place in the annals of disciplinary decisions that backfired terribly.
Peter Butera’s classmates at Wyoming Area Secondary Center began cheering Friday’s graduation speech — which had condemned student government as a powerless sham and criticized unnamed administrators as authoritarian — seconds after his principal booted him off the stage midsentence.
From there, his remarks rose to the front page of Reddit and were repeated on CNN and in many newspapers, including The Washington Post on Tuesday.
And Tuesday night, less than a week after graduating, the 18-year-old was invited onto to finish what he started.
“Since the school wouldn’t let you finish your speech at the graduation ceremony, I thought it would be nice to let you finish on television,” said.
So Butera did, picking up at the last sentence his principal had let him say:
“Hopefully for the sake of future students, more people of power within our school, who do not do so already, will begin to prioritize education itself as well as the empowering of students,” he said, now speaking not to about 200 classmate on a football field, but to viewers across the United States.
Butera then wished his classmates happiness and success, and thanked everyone again for “this great celebration.”
Nothing too scandalous. But as Butera had already pointed out to The Post, he had finished the most scathing parts of his speech before he was cut off.
“All you did was give the school like a two-star Yelp review,” Kimmel cracked. “You didn’t do anything that bad.”
But at another point, with no humor in his voice, the host said: “Whoever cut that mic off should not be in charge of education of any kind.”
That would be principal Jon Pollard, who still hasn’t responded to a request for comment from The Post, though he has been making the media rounds too — in a way.
In a statement a quoted by the Citizen’s Voice, Pollard confirmed Butera’s account that the student had submitted a different speech from the one he ended up reading — mostly the same, Butera said, except for his dark turn near the end.
“We reviewed it in my office the morning of graduation after the final practice,” Pollard wrote. “Protecting the students and staff are my number one concern. When he veered off of the speech he had practiced, I was obligated to act to ensure the remainder of Peter’s speech was not demeaning or derogatory to his classmates, the underclassmen, faculty, staff or administration.”
In fact, Butera’s speech as delivered had not mentioned by name any of the administrators he criticized.
The principal wrote that he’d been getting hate mail since the incident, but wouldn’t hesitate to cut a mic off again “the next time a student attempts to hijack the ceremony for their own agenda.” Asked how he was handling the fame and fallout from graduation day, Butera sounded a bit done with celebrity.
“I don’t think I’m doing anymore interviews on the matter,” he wrote to The Post on Wednesday. “Thank you for everything you’ve done though, I really appreciate it.”
No problem. His speech can speak for itself.
Here’s the full version of Butera’s final draft — the rogue graduation remarks that became exponentially more popular when the principal tried to silence them:
“Good evening everyone.
“The past four years here at Wyoming Area have been very interesting to say the least. To give you an idea of what it was like, I’m going to take this time to tell you all a bit about what my Wyoming Area experience was like and the people who were a part of it.
“I would like to start off by thanking my mom, my dad, and my baba, who have raised me since the day I was born and have helped me become the person I am today. Every one of us graduating have those special people in our lives that care for us everyday, and love us unconditionally. And to all of you here today, we cannot thank you enough for everything you’ve done for us.
“I would now like to recognize a few teachers who are extremely committed to their jobs as educators, and have worked to make me and many others, better students everyday: Mr. Hizynski, Mr. Pizano, and Mr. Williams. In addition to these three, there are a number of other very good teachers at our school as well. It is dedicated teachers like these that truly help to develop students and prepare them to further their educations.
“Not only does Wyoming Area have some great teachers, but a couple great administrators as well. Mr. Quaglia had been our principal for 3.5 years, and was as great a leader as they come, always extremely caring and reasonable. Over the summer, our school hired a new principal, Mr. Pacchioni, and despite the hesitancy that some students may have had about getting a new principal our senior year, he quickly put that to rest by coming in and always looking out for the students here since day 1.
“Throughout my time at Wyoming Area, I have pursued every leadership opportunity available to me. In addition to being a member of Student Council since I was a freshman, my classmates have also elected me Class President the past 4 years, which has been my greatest honor, and I would like to thank you all for that one final time, it really means a lot.
“However, at our school, the title of Class President could more accurately be Class Party Planner, and Student Council’s main obligation is to paint signs every week. Despite some of the outstanding people in this school, a lack of real student government and the authoritative attitude that a few teachers, administrators, and board members have, prevents students from truly developing as leaders.
“Hopefully in the future, this will change. Hopefully for the sake of future students, more people of power within this school, who do not do so already, will begin to prioritize education itself as well as the empowering of students.
“Because at the end of the day, it is not what we have done as Wyoming Area students or athletes that will define our lives, but what we will go on to do as Wyoming Area Alumni.
“And I hope that every one of my fellow classmates here today, as well as myself, will go on to do great things in this world, and find true happiness and success.
“Thank you all for coming out to this great celebration today.”