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Controversy over valedictorian speech goes viral


PRAGUE, Okla. — The fight continues for an Oklahoma valedictorian who is being denied her diploma because she used the word “hell” in her graduation speech.

Her high school principal told her she couldn’t get her diploma until she wrote a letter of apology to the school board.

The story has now gone national with comments pouring in from all over about the district, ironically with the red devil for a mascot, upset over the use of the word “hell.”

Kaitlin Nootbaar said she’s been overwhelmed with support, getting calls from as far away as Italy.

“That four-letter word is what got me in trouble,” Nootbaar said.

She’s settling into her freshman dorm at Southwestern Oklahoma State University.

“I did not think it would get that big at all,” she said.

Nootbaar said she used the word in her speech in the context of people asking her what she wants to be.

“You know they’re going to ask us what we want to be and we’re going to say, ‘Who the hell knows,’ and that’s it,” Nootbaar said.

Her words mirrored another graduation speech from one of the Twilight movies.

Nootbaar’s father described the reaction from her high school principal.

“Went to the office and asked for the diploma and he says, ‘Your diploma is right here but you ain’t getting it.’ Close the door; we have a problem,” David Nootbaar said.

The principal told her she could not have her diploma unless she wrote a letter of apology for using the word “hell” in her speech.

“I don’t want to because I’m not sorry so writing an apology letter, that’s just going to be a lie. Which if they’re saying that my cursing is sinning, that would be another sin, so don’t want to have two sins on my hands,” Nootbaar said.

Her dilemma has gone viral; CNN, The Huffington Post, MSNBC and The New York Daily News all picked up the story.

Prague residents are also weighing in on the controversy.

“I think that’s absurd. A lot of people say ‘hell’ and I’m sorry but she’s graduated. Give her her diploma, let her go on her way,” Linda Goddard said.

“There’s other things in this world that are more important and she’s a valedictorian. She earned her diploma, she should get it, without an apology,” Christie Warner said.

Nootbaar hopes the district changes its mind.

But for now, she’ll focus on her major of marine biology but said that could change.

“Who the hell knows? I may change five more times,” she said.

The Prague Superintendent gave us this statement:

“My name is Rick Martin. I am the Superintendent at Prague Public Schools. This morning two news articles involving our school district and Kaitlin Nootbar [sic] , the valedictorian for the class of 2012, were brought to my attention. Unfortunately, I have not had any communication with any member of the Nootbar [sic] family regarding this matter. It has been reported that the district is denying Ms. Nootbar [sic] a diploma because of a statement made during the 2012 graduation exercises. My comments are limited to those matters already released to the media by the Nootbar [sic] family.

Valedictorians for Prague Public Schools earn this title through the achievement of academic excellence. Our school has traditionally allowed the valedictorian to speak as part of the district’s graduation ceremonies. Speakers are allowed significant freedom in their remarks but all speeches must be approved in advance as being appropriate for graduation exercises. In this case, Ms. Nootbar [sic] prepared an appropriate speech, which was approved by the high school principal. Unfortunately, she did not present the speech as written and used language that was inappropriate for a graduation exercise. Therefore, the high school principal requested a private apology for her transgression before releasing her diploma. His request was both reasonable and in keeping with established federal caselaw interpreting the First Amendment.

Ms. Nootbar [sic] is an outstanding student and her achievements have reflected positively on our district. It is my hope that the family will contact me personally so that this matter may be resolved between the proper parties.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Statement is transcribed as Prague Public Schools Superintendent Rick Martin sent it. The spelling discrepancy in the family’s last name is not an error in KFOR-TV transcription.

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