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. What the Hell? If there is a Heaven and a student (valedictorian or not) can say so, how is she not permitted to say “Hell”? It’s not that it’s draconian or wrongful or obnoxious or any of those things that it obviously IS, but that it’s so super-dumb that I’m getting to where I’m absolutely ashamed of our country. The word’s going to get out that we have folks here who think that women’s private parts boycott pregnancy for uninvited sperm and that uttering the word “Hell” is a social or legal misdemeanor and that capillary lacerations on the back of someone’s head constitute “serious injury” and that —

    Oh, it’s too late.

    Everyone should send post-cards to Rick Martin (TELL ME: Is that really his name?) saying: “HELL, I heard you really shoved your feet into your mouth, boy!”

  2. The student was on Anderson Cooper tonight and is sticking with her story and told them to go to hell. She is starting college this week. The Devil is in the details here but it is time for the students and parents to demand that principal and superintendent be fired.

  3. News headline: “Prague, Okla., doesn’t want to be known for ‘hell’ ”

    Well, do tell!

    They are focusing on the wrong thing. The town is divided, and dislike the attention this has brought to their town. What the town council and other civic leaders seem to be missing is the intransigence and short sightedness of the school administration in refusing to give the Valedictorian her diploma, then try to hide behind a stonewall of “no comment,” because it is “confidential.” Confidential? The young woman, Kaitlin Nootbaar, was flown to New York by NBC where she taped a segment for The Today Show. I daresay the Superintendent nor Principal agreed to be interviewed. Confidential my a$$. How about cowardice?

    If the town wants this to go away, they might just tell the school board to give the girl her damn diploma. She earned it, it is hers.

  4. It is time those little Devils got off their arses and go demonstrate in front of the Superintendent’s home. Kids these days aint got no hutzpa.

  5. Idealist707, Bite me… all you have to do is go to google to find the information…. It takes all of about a minute……

  6. “I see in several news articles where Superintendent Rick Martin refuses to comment, calling the matter ‘confidential.’ ” (OS)

    Silence :mrgreen:

  7. He was boorrrrn in Oklahoma..
    His wifes name was Betty Lou Thelma Liz..
    He’s nooot responsible for what he’s doin….
    His mother made him what he is!

    Its up against the wall Redneck Mothers,
    Mothers who have raised their sons so well..
    -Jerry Jeff Walker.

  8. This morning when I Googled ‘Prague Oklahoma High School’ I got a few less than a million ‘hits’ and the site was down. The site front page is back up but content has been replaced with a placard saying it is ‘under construction.’

    When I Googled the same words just now, I got 1,900,000 hits, all about the diploma that wasn’t.

    I see in several news articles where Superintendent Rick Martin refuses to comment, calling the matter “confidential.” As far as Mr. Martin and the unnamed principal are concerned, all I can say is: ‘All those years of education gone to waste.’ Their Alma Maters ought to demand their diplomas back for being an embarrassment.

  9. My daughter needed her high school diploma for a job application recently, but could not lay her hands on it immediately. She stopped by the school office and they made a copy of her transcript for her after she filled out a request form. The issue here is not the piece of paper so much, as it is the symbolism. When she got both her high school and college diplomas, they did not give them to her when she walked across the stage. The school held them to be picked up later, or they were mailed.

    I am told that many schools do not hand out diplomas now, the scroll or folder given them at graduation is either empty or a blank piece of paper. Diplomas are handed out later on condition of good behavior by the new graduate. My daughter was told this way doing it grew out of anti-war and civil rights protest gestures by students at graduation.

  10. Darren: I’m not certain about that. I have never had to show my HS diploma; point of fact, I’m not even sure where it is. When I went to University, I’m sure (although I couldn’t swear to it) they obtained my transcript from the HS. The HS can’t deny the transcript. If they did, I would expect a very large suit, but the actual diploma, while nice to have I suppose, is not necessary. As far as a big public outcry, we’re apparently it. However, since it’s Texas, what else would one expect?

  11. I would say she can file a tort claim against the school. The availability of the diploma is one of the requisites to college admission, hence generally higher earnings and greater opportunities in life. The unlawful withholding of that diploma by reason of constitutionally protected speech causes economic and social damage to the student. If this action by the principal in any way diminished her college or other opportunities she should file a lawsuit against the principal and the school district.

    I would hope the school district and the principal would also be on the receiving end of a good public outcry and all the embarassments and ridicule provided. Letters of protest from each state and a few foreign countries as well. That usually brings a smile to my face.

  12. You kids out there in Oklahoma better get those tee shirts with Hell on the front printed up and go on up to the school and make your point. Tell em all that The Devil Made Me Do It. The Principal and the Superintendent have to go. Perhaps the trash pickup department has some openings in Prague.

  13. I wish that I could dismiss this incident as isolated idiocy by a clueless principal, but I can’t. I view it instead as only the latest example of an emerging neo-Calvinism that is increasingly infiltrating our civil institutions. It is the same theology that informed the comments of Rep. Todd Akin several days ago. And it constitutes a long-term danger to the entire social contract foundation of government in this country.

  14. OS said, “I suspect the Principal has by now encountered language that makes Ms. Nootbaar’s little slip of the tongue pale by comparison.”

    oh, yeah.

  15. Humonguosly (swedish) impressed and gratified and quite simply happy to hear of the response condemning him and supporting her.

    We can make a difference with our voices. Seeing justice done is cause for happiness. Somebody notify TonyC. Send a message to Assange’s supporters. Ring the Liberty Bell and all its replicas.

    Now when can we use them again against the next malfeasance: police, judicial, governmental, etc.

  16. Zara,

    Explain please. When did you do your lookup to find the 6 bills? Before or after your first post?
    And if after, being prescient, why not say you are.

    You pointed expressly the whole state of Oklahoma based on the actions of one principal. The bill lookup results perhaps came later, but in any case were not mentioned in your original comment which I referred to.

    My original reply to you was expressly pointed at humans but used your post as a springboard for my argument. Why do you reply as though I had assaulted you when I strove clearly not to assault you. Read my post again please. And answer my original question, not the one you assumed I asked.

    Thanking you in advance and hoping for a reply to the orginal question and the ones posed above.

    Just for the record and to ease your work, here is a copy of my comment to you:

    1, August 21, 2012 at 8:16 am


    I’m not kicking you, just us humans. We kick sand on unknowns, without a trial or material evidence.
    We accuse them just on the basis (my assumption) of their state name and associate it to the infamous trial in Tennessee. Guilt by association?

    Now how fair is that? Can you give your take? Much oblogied if you do.”

  17. “If there was a ghod he’d remove some of these Christian Butt-holes……………. who poison everything they touch”~Zarathustra
    It isn’t ones ‘Christianess’ that makes them a butt-hole, it is thier lack of it. Christ admonished tat we judge not, that we love, that we love each other as ourselves, that we help one another, that we not steal, ……. some of us can’t even refrain from name calling. And the word ‘hell’ is not a swear…it is a place. She could have said ‘how the Oklahoma should I know”????
    It would be the same thing…..

  18. Nal,

    Yep….. I’d said the same thing…… Wait…. I probably did…..

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