Who doesn’t love undermining authority by finding clever loopholes? One graduating senior in Florida found a way to talk about gay rights at graduation even when he was expressly told not to.
Zander Moricz, senior class president of the Pine View School for the Gifted in Osprey, Florida, is an extremely bright and determined young person. Not only is he headed to Harvard in the fall, he is so esteemed by his peers that he is the only student to serve as class president for all four years of their high school experience. He is also an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ rights, organizing a school walkout in March to protest Florida’s ‘Parental Rights In Education’ bill (commonly known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law) speaking at rallies, and being named as a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the state over the bill.
Like class presidents before him, Moricz was slated to speak at graduation. But a couple of weeks beforehand, he was called into the principal’s office and warned that if his speech mentioned the law, or talked about being gay, officials might cut off his mike.
So when Moricz spoke at his graduation on Sunday, he didn’t talk about being gay. He spoke about having curly hair instead.
You know, sort of.
“I must discuss a very public part of my identity,” Moricz told a silent auditorium full of onlookers, increasing the tension in the room.
“As you know,” Moricz said, pausing to remove his tassled cap, “I have curly hair.”
“I used to hate my curls,” he continued. “I spent mornings and nights embarrassed of them, trying to desperately straighten this part of who I am. But the daily damage of trying to fix myself became too much to endure.”
Brandishing the kind of rhetorical skills that will get a kid into schools like Pine View and Harvard, Moricz deftly criticized the law without ever speaking its name.
“There are going to be so many kids with curly hair who need a community like Pine View and they will not have one,” he said. “Instead, they’ll try to fix themselves so that they can exist in Florida’s humid climate.”
These “thousands of curly-haired kids,” Moricz continued, “will be forced to speak like this for their entire lives as students.”
Calling upon his class’ history of activism, Moricz ended his speech by encouraging his peers to use their power to fight back. He was met with applause, cheering, and the embrace of a robed school official.
Moricz had gone public about the school’s threat of censorship in the days leading up to the graduation ceremony.
In an interview with Jim DeLa for ABC7’s podcast, The Lead, Moricz explained that he believed his principal is a supportive person who is already being pressured to act otherwise after the passage of the law, which doesn’t go into effect until July 1.
But being told to keep his politics — and his identity — out of his speech, “was like a sledgehammer to the face,” Moricz told DeLa. “I could not comprehend it because it felt so backwards.”
“It was a perfect, crystal clear image of the impact that this bill can have, will have, is already having — because this was not the human being that I know.”
In a statement provided to Florida’s ABC 7, the Sarasota County Schools said, “Student speakers were reminded that graduation is a community celebration and were encouraged to tailor their remarks to be reflective of experiences & memories that all students could appreciate to best reflect all facets of the graduating class’s achievements. The principal did meet with Zander Moricz to remind him of the ceremony expectations.”