“After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone. I didn’t know who to turn to,” the student said before his mic was cut off
In New Jersey last Thursday, Bryce Dershem stood behind the podium to address Eastern Regional High School’s graduation class and their respective families. And although the valedictorian didn’t make it one minute into his graduation speech before his mic was cut off and the principal of the school walked away with the graduating senior’s speech, Dershem did the incredible: He delivered the powerful speech about coming out, his LGBTQ identity, and mental health — from memory.
“I did feel censored,” Dershem told NBC10 Philadelphia. “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.”
Dershem began his speech confidently, congratulating his fellow classmates and thanking friends, families, and the community for helping make their accomplishments possible. But 45 seconds into Dershem’s speech, his mic was abruptly muted. The school would later claim it was a “technical difficulty.”
“After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone. I didn’t know who to turn to,” Dershem said before getting cut off. At this moment, Principal Robert Tull walked up, removed the mic, crumpled the student’s speech and walked off with Dershem’s speech in hand.
“[Tull] pointed to the speech he had written for me, effectively, and told me I was to say that and nothing else,” Dershem told NBC10.
But this didn’t shake Dershem. Instead, as soon as he was given another mic, he calmly and elegantly continued his speech.
“As I was saying,” he started, as the crowd cheered him on, “we brand high school as four years of self-discovery but few of us know where to begin.”
“After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone,” Dershem continued. “I didn’t know who to turn to for support, for guidance, for a hug. Every day at school I outwardly smiled, while inwardly questioning how we were supposed to link the different facets of our identities. Brother, sister, queen, queer lover, human being. Even though my family my friends and so many amazing Eastern faculty believed in me, I needed to accept the unapologetic version of myself, for myself. We all do. But before we can even start down this road of self-discovery, we got to make sure we are doing okay and can handle the drive — especially when it comes to mental health.”
That’s only the beginning. It’s great, right? And while we might love Dershem’s address, apparently the school did anything but.
According to Dershem, school administrators made him remove all mentions of his queerness and going to treatment during the speech editing process. They even told him that graduation was not “his therapy session.”
“Every year, all student speakers are assisted in shaping the speech, 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,” Robert Cloutier, Eastern Camden County Regional School District superintendent, said in a statement.
The school also took issue with Dershem’s graduation attire and asked him to remove the Pride flag draped over his gown. And like the badass he is, he kept it on.
“Part of our identity, our year, our struggle is 2021,” Dershem said in his speech. “We’re still here though. We adopted to something we never thought possible.”
“Believe in yourself, Class of 2021,” he continued, before receiving a much-deserved standing ovation. “Each and every one of you is enough. Each and every one of you can and will change this world. Thank you and congratulations.”