Marvin Wright, 2017 senior class president at SouthWest High School in Edgecombe County, North Carolina, had his diploma withheld for more than two full days, WRAL reported.
SouthWest Edgecombe allegedly withheld Wright's diploma as retaliation for his graduation speech, the Wilson Times reported.
Wright reportedly worked for more than two weeks on his remarks but was asked at the last moment to not deliver his speech and instead deliver one prepared by school administrators. According to the Wilson Times, the administrator's speech was just four sentences long.
"To be honest, the speech that they wrote wasn't me at all," Wright told the Wilson Times. “I feel like they tried to belittle me in a way because I had more to say. I feel like they couldn’t describe the ways that I felt and the things that I experienced. There were only four sentences and I was like, ‘I really worked hard on this speech and as senior class president, I think I should read my own speech,’ and they was like, ‘No, this is what you are going to read.’”
When Wright approached the podium, he pulled up his speech on his phone and delivered it his way. In his speech, Wright said:
I am no expert in this journey we call life, but we all have the ability to make a difference and to be that change the world needs. The past 13 years have equipped us for a time as this to stand bold in who we are. So I say to my classmates, cherish these last few minutes we spend here and the memories we have created and get ready for the journey ahead.
In a video recording of Wright's speech, administrators can be seen getting visibly upset that he chose to read his own words.
"I heard his speech and did not have any problems with the content," Superintendent John Farrelly told the Wilson Times. "The content was not an issue." The issue, Farrelly said, was that all speakers were expected to deliver only the "practiced speech" during the ceremony and that Wright had failed to meet an approval deadline, according to WRAL.
Two days after graduation, the school relented, and school principal Craig Harris hand-delivered Wright's diploma to his home, according to WRAL. Superintendent Farrelly also reportedly apologized to Wright over the phone. But none of the uproar mattered to one of the most important people: Wright's mother.
"My thing to him was to follow your heart," Jokita Wright told WRAL. "He put God first. He spoke about parents, his classmates and spoke about his mom."