To my son Max and to his fellow 2018 Queen City high school graduates,
Last month a valedictorian named Christian Bales was denied the chance to deliver the address he had written for Holy Cross, his Catholic school in Kentucky. The school’s administration claimed his talk was too political. You can Google his name and read the speech. It simply referenced the issues of the year and called for engagement. I think his school feared not what he had planned to say, but that he might ad lib.
Bales’s dad, no doubt disappointed in the school’s silencing his son’s voice, proposed bringing a bullhorn. Bales embraced the idea and delivered his address outside the Convocation Center where the graduation had just taken place. His valedictorian talk was transmitted much farther than it would have been had he been granted permission to deliver it from the podium inside.
High School class of 2018, in this week celebrating your graduation, follow Bales’s lead. Deliver your own graduation speeches. As digital natives, you have the tools you need to be heard. Use your smart phones (as you so aptly do) to share your messages and speak to us — your parents, your community leaders and legislators — to demand change.
You’ve earned that right through your life experiences. When you were 1-year-old and we saw planes crash into the Twin Towers, our first response was to cradle you in our arms to keep you safe, but we could not. When you were in preschool, you were trained in lockdowns in the face of violent threats and grew up with mass shootings becoming commonplace from Sandy Hook to Santa Fe.
When you were in third grade, you experienced the election of the first African-American president and the hope that racial equality had finally been achieved. Yet, Trayvon Martin’s death resulting from Skittles in his pocket mistaken as a gun and Tamir Rice’s death at 12 resulting from the toy gun he held proved that promise to be hollow.
Class of 2018, you saw our state torn apart by HB2 but you also witnessed the passage of marriage equality. You experienced adolescence in an era when more LGBTQ youth spoke their truth in your middle and high school hallways.
When you were in eleventh grade, you observed the election of Donald Trump, a president who tweets in a divisive manner many times each day. You saw local riots and protests in Charlotte and global women’s marches around the world.
You beheld the power that happens when youth take the lead. In response to your peers planning the March for Our Lives, 1.2 million people followed. They called their legislators to accountability. Parkland survivor David Hogg cautioned “… to those politicians supported by the NRA, that allowed the continued slaughter of our children and our future, I say get your resumes ready.”
Christian Bales, who last week delivered his valedictory address to the world (via bullhorn and then the national media) is gender nonconforming. His school was worried about the clothes he would choose to wear that day and the words he would utter.
High School Class of 2018, be nonconforming. Buy your bullhorns. Post your protests. Run for office.
We, the adults, have not earned the right to deliver your commencement addresses for we have created a mess of polarization, demonization, environmental damage and gun violence. Rather than letting us shatter your dreams for our world, please shatter our complacency and cynicism. Demand that our country work toward your ideals and ours. Rather than offering you advice, we are ready to follow yours.