Little Devil: High School Valedictorian Denied Diploma in Oklahoma For Saying “Hell” In Graduation Speech

There is new unrest among students in Prague. No it is not a new Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. This is Prague, Oklahoma where the valedictorian at Prague High School, Kaitlin Nootbaar, was denied her high school diploma for saying the word “hell” in her graduation speech. It would however seem to be in keeping with the school’s mascot: the little Devil (below).

Nootbaar spoke about how when she first started school she wanted to be a nurse, then a veterinarian. However, now as she is about to graduate, she doesn’t know and when people ask her she says ‘How the hell do I know? I’ve changed my mind so many times.” Her script originally said “heck” but she used “hell” in the excitement of the moment. When she later went to pick up her diploma, the principal refused to hand it over and told Kaitlin she would have to write an apology letter before he would release the diploma. Her father is irate that after getting straight As, the school has added a new condition on receiving her diploma.

Nootbaar is scheduled to start college where she appears to have tentatively decided “what the hell she wants to do”: she wants to study marine biology.

Notably, while countries like England have effectively decriminalized profanity recently, American towns continue to arrest or fine people for using foul language, including a recent a new measure in Massachusetts. Even lawyers can find themselves on the the wrong side of the line on swearing.

I have no problem with school officials barring swear words. Even though “hell” is pretty mild and commonly used, some people find it offensive or inappropriate. She made a mistake. However, that should be a matter of a stern lecture and perhaps a request for an apology. The withholding of a diploma seems to be rather draconian in the circumstances.

I am not sure that the school has such authority since Nootbaar has technically already graduated. I believe it did have the authority to bar her from the ceremony or even remove her due to conduct unbecoming a speaker. Courts give schools broad leeway on such questions. However, she completely the course work as well as the ceremony. I am not sure that she is technically still a student under the jurisdiction of the school. What do you think?

Notably, “hell” is not one of the seven deadly words that you cannot say on television as stated by the late George Carlin. Those words are below but I warn that the video includes words that would not be appropriate in a graduation at Prague High School.

Source: KFOR

47 thoughts on “Little Devil: High School Valedictorian Denied Diploma in Oklahoma For Saying “Hell” In Graduation Speech”

  1. The school and the principal will not apologize and return her diploma. Hubris at its finest. This is the archetype for a bureaucrat having his delusions of grandeur, believing that being a school principal is high on the totem pole and that he is the chief of all below.

    As Otteray has written, the town just wants this to go away, well perhaps they can achieve this by pressuring the school to apologize and return the diploma. If they choose the enable the school officials by their uninvolvement, well then they shall reap what they sow.

    Aside from the civil rights issue, which is certainly foremost, how about looking at this in another light. The girl worked 12 years from when she was around 5 or 6 years old toward achieving the diploma and to such a level she achieved Valedictorian. ONLY to have that thrown away for merely uttering one word instead of another. What is DISHONOR and an outrage. This is the United States, not North Korea. And these men call themselves educators. I feel sorry for any student that has to attend this school district in that they can probably have all their life’s work thrown away at such arbitrary whims of school officials. No point in teaching civics class, since itseems there is no due process, common sense, or honor amidst the school administration.

    Time for a recall election on the school board. They support this type of behavior, they are equally as guilty and are unsuited for office.

  2. The Principal and Superintendent are the ones who owe her an apology, not the other way around. They may think this is going to blow over, but like so many others have discovered before them, there are a lot of bloggers and civil rights activists that may decide to make Prague High School and its administration their hobby.

    I looked for the Prague High School web site, but it is still down–I get a 404 Error. However, the Chamber of Commerce and city web sites are still up. I am sure the CofC would love to hear from as many people as possible. Lots of traffic to their site, y’know. The Prague Times-Herald newspaper does not seem to have a web site; either that, or it has been taken down as well.


    Nootbar says she’s not going to apologize.

    Good for her.

    Principal Smith and Superintendent Martin would be wise to pull that stick out of their collective ass and give her the diploma. There is no way this ends well for them. Her father says as a veteran he doesn’t think that she should give up her 1st Amendment rights to this man when people are laying down their lives to protect that right.

  4. Zara,

    You say “Bite me.” So you don’t like to meet reason with counter reason. Sad you won’t be civil. JT requests that we be here. I am, why not you?

    Your first cmment was given without factual support.

    Now you refer to how easy it was to get the facts. Then why did you not offer them in your first comment, in which case?

    The more you say, seems to make it worse for you.
    I had no issue with you at the beginning. But you found one by looking for it. Suspicions are usually confirmed with little effort.

    Good luch with your searches. They will be successful.

  5. anyone ever watch demolition man?? if not please do.. theres a part in there where everytime you say a word that even resembles a cuss word you’re fined seems like this principal might have watched it one time to many

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