A high school valedictorian in New Jersey had his microphone cut after he went off-script to talk about his queer identity and ba*tle with anorexia during his graduation speech. Bryce Dershem, 18, took to the podium in a rainbow flag robe to deliver his address at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees last week.
Dersham and high school administrators had purportedly agreed upon a set speech p*i*r to the event, but the valedictorian decided to go off-message after making his way onto the stage.
‘After I came out as queer in freshman year I felt so alone,’ Dersham began. ‘I didn’t know who to turn to for support.’
Video recorded by Dersham’s dad shows the school principal, Dr. Robert Tull, seemingly pull a cord from the sound system, effectively silencing the teen’s microphone.
Tull can then be seen coming up onto the stage and taking a typed copy of Dersham’s speech out of his hands.
However, the cro*d can be heard cheering in support of the valedictorian, before a back-up microphone was handed to him by another staff member and he continued on with his speech.
Dersham is now bound for the prestigious Tufts University in Massachusetts, where he will major in French literature and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies.
Speaking later with NBC10, Dersham said he had been censored by his school. ‘I felt as though they were trying to regulate the message I was going to say and take away the parts of my identity that I’m really proud of,’ he stated.
Robert Cloutier, Eastern Camden County Regional School District superintendent, told the news network that valedictorian’s speeches are supposed to be ‘about the future of all students in the graduating class’.
‘Every year, all student speakers are assisted in shaping their speeches, and all student speeches – which are agreed upon and approved in advance –are kept in the binder on the podium for the principal to conduct the graduation ceremony,’ Cloutier stated.
Dersham says that when he was crafting his speech with school administrators they told him to cut out reference to his m*ntal health struggles and his queer identity.
He alleges they told him that his speech was ‘not a therapy session’. But Dersham decided to go rogue at the podium, and took out his own typed speech to read out to the crowd.
After the principal took that speech away, Dersham decided to speak off the cuff when the second microphone was delivered to him.
‘I needed to accept the unapologetic version of myself for myself,’ Dersham said. ‘As I st*ug*led with my queer identity, I also struggled more and more with my men-tal health, which wo*sened with the coronavirus pand-emic.
‘Beginning in September of senior year, I spent six months in treatment for anorexia,’ he confessed. ‘For so long I tried to bend and break and shrink to society’s expectations.’
‘If you have struggled or will st*u*gle, I believe you… From a formerly suicidal, formerly anorexic queer – believe me thtt one person’s belief can save a life!’
‘Believe in one another, believe in the reality of mental illness… Each and everyone of you is enough. Each and everyone of you can and change this world.’