High School Valedictorian Offends and Doesn't Get Diploma

Kaitlin Nootbaar said "hell" in her graduation speech, angering the school principal, who refused to give her the diploma without an apology.


In her speech at Prague High School in Oklahoma, Nootbaar told of her challenges in choosing a career path and her tendency to change her plans. Nootbaar said that she responds to questions about her career by saying, "How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times." The quote was inspired by a graduation scene in "Eclipse," of "The Twilight Saga." In the film, Anna Kendrick's character says, "who the hell knows?"

"Heck" was used in the written version of Nootbaar's speech, but she says that she changed to "hell" at the last minute. Still, she didn't know anything was wrong because the crowd responded well. 

According to Nootbar's father, when he went to pick up the diploma, "The principal shut the door on us and told us she [Kaitlin] will type apology letters to him, the school board, the superintendent and all of the teachers." Nootbaar's father was angry and said his daughter had received straight As and that she "excelled beyond anything I'd expect ever being my child."

In response to questions by the press, Superintendent Dr. Rick Martin said, "This matter is confidential, and we cannot publicly say anything about it."

Nootbaar explained her perspective to a local newspaper:

"First off, I would like to thank everyone who is backing me on this, especially my friends and family. And to those who don't agree with me, that is fine also. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and is free to comment however they choose. It's one of the great advantages of living in a free country. A country where we are free to speak. I would also like to note that I do not hate Prague. I have loved that town since I was a child. I don't hate the school either, the teachers have always been great! I don't feel that the whole town should suffer from the mistakes of few. Again, thanks:)"

Discussion Starters:

  • What are the communication barriers in this situation?
  • What are Kaitlin Nootbaar's and the principal's responsibilities here?