Eighteen-year-old Evan Young was supposed to be the 2015 class valedictorian of Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont, Colorado. But his principal prevented him from giving his graduation speech after learning he would announce he is gay. Instead, two weeks later, Young got to give his speech at an Out Boulder fundraiser before an audience of hundreds, a number of them politicians who congratulated him for his bravery. We air Young’s full address and speak to him about his experience.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn to this Democracy Now! global broadcast exclusive. It’s graduation season. Students across the country are celebrating their hard-won academic achievements. And in high school, there’s no greater honor than the title of class valedictorian. Traditionally, the student with the highest academic record is invited to address the graduating class at many schools, and that’s exactly what Evan Young planned to do when he was named valedictorian of Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont, Colorado. However, Evan was prevented from delivering his speech at his graduation ceremony after school officials learned he planned to announce he was gay, as part of his broader message about respecting differences. In the days leading up to graduation, school principal BJ Buchmann reportedly instructed Young to omit the disclosure. When Evan refused, the principal called the student’s father and prematurely outed Evan to his dad. Then the school prevented Evan from addressing his class and also did not recognize him as class valedictorian at its May 16th graduation ceremony. Evan Young is a graduating senior with a 4.5 grade point average and a scholarship awaiting him at Rutgers University. His story has sparked national outcry from gay rights activists and allies all over the country.
Well, on Sunday, Evan Young did get a chance to deliver his speech. The 18-year-old spoke at the annual fundraiser for the gay rights group Out Boulder. He was introduced by Out Boulder’s executive director, Mardi Moore.
MARDI MOORE: So, when Evan and I started communicating about all this, we really did try to work things out without going to the press. There was no—that was not our—we didn’t want to go to the press. That’s not what we were doing. And you can ask people who wanted to go to the press. They said, "No, we’re not going to the press. We’re going to try to work this out like adults." And so, Dave Montez, who’s here, who’s a great colleague of mine, and I’m very grateful for Dave, and I went into a meeting and tried—with the principal and some others, and tried to get a venue for Evan to give his speech, which they wouldn’t allow him to do. They refused to do that.
When I talked to Evan, and I said the only thing that we can do is bring public pressure, this is what he told me: "I have mixed feelings about making the story public. I don’t want to seem like I’m bitter and trying to exact some revenge, because I’m not. I wouldn’t do something like that. I only think we should do something if it is absolutely clear that, number one, this will improve my school in the long run; number two, this will lead to increased acceptance for the LGBT community; and number three, to ensure that my situation doesn’t happen again."
AMY GOODMAN: Out Boulder’s executive director, Mardi Moore, introducing 18-year-old Evan Young, the valedictorian of Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont, Colorado. Now we turn to Evan Young himself. He was supposed to give this graduation address on June—May 16th, but instead it was last night, Sunday night, in a backyard, with hundreds of people gathered, many of them politicians. This is Evan Young’s graduation address.
EVAN YOUNG: In the words of one of my heroes, Stephen Colbert, "Dreams can change. If we all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses." Now, I don’t really remember what my first dream was—although I’m pretty sure I’ve never wanted to be a princess—but my dreams have changed many times over the years, and not all of them I’ve fulfilled. However, there are two that I’ve stuck with my entire life: one, finish high school with perfect grades, and two, most importantly, wear a cape. And tonight, I accomplish both. When I was a toddler, I used to watch the show Arthur on PBS. And in one episode, one of the characters got like an A on a test or something, and I distinctly remember saying to my dad that I wanted to get straight A’s in the future. I didn’t really know what that meant at the time, but, sure enough, over the course of my life I would fulfill this goal, give or take that B I got in art class in eighth grade, which doesn’t count because art’s not a real class anyway. With this being said, I am quite honored to be the class va-le-di-vic-tor-ian, a word which—along with "feminism" and "thesaurus"—I haven’t quite figured out how to say correctly. In all seriousness, this distinction truly is an honor. And I can confidently say that this moment—standing up here, reluctantly delivering a speech to the school with a green cape fluttering majestically at my back—is the greatest moment of my life so far.
But first, I have to say thank you to everyone. I know you guys are probably tired of being thanked at this point, and I know thanking people in speeches is super cliché, but it’s a good cliché, like slow-motion or training montages in movies. So you will be thanked, whether you like it or not.
Audience members, thank you so much for sitting through all these speeches that you knew you were going to be bored by. In approximately six-and-a-half minutes, your trials and tribulations will be over. If at any point during the speech you feel like pretending to "go to the bathroom" so you can play on your phone in the hallway—you know who you are, come on—I won’t be offended.
Fellow students, thank you for putting up with me for so many years. As off-putting and sarcastic I was at times, you were always so nice to me. I love you guys, and while we’re probably going to make new friends wherever we go, they won’t be you, and that just makes me so sad. In fact, the other day I almost cried at the thought of leaving you guys. Almost, but not quite. My manliness is still intact.
And I would like to thank my teachers for all the wonderful things they’ve taught me, although frankly I’ve forgotten most of it. I had a bad habit of making stupid comments during class, and I can’t thank you guys enough for putting up with me. As often as I complained about your homework assignments or your class behind your back, I never complained about you. You guys were just too awesome for that.
And I’d like to thank my family for all their encouragement and support, and for forcing me to do my college essays despite much whining and procrastination on my part. I’d especially like to thank my mother and my brother, Troy, for hiding candy in their rooms. Those gumdrops and lollipops got me through so many boring classes.
And of course, where would we be without the Internet, probably the greatest invention since the wheel? In fact, I dare say the Internet is better than the wheel because as I’m sure you visitors from out of state can testify, wheels are pretty useless unless you have Google Maps to tell you where to go. Whether you’re scrolling through Facebook instead of working, or frantically reading through Sparknotes in the five minutes before English class because you forgot to do the reading last night (come on, you know you’ve all been there), you just can’t thank the Internet enough. I mean, really.
And finally, I’d like to thank the Coca-Cola Company and all its subsidiaries, which have not only stood as unshakable icons of American consumerism, but have also provided mankind with a delicious source of caffeine for so many years. And I’d like to say this speech is sponsored by them, but it’s not. They didn’t give me any money. Unlike Hillary Clinton, I don’t make millions of dollars a year for flapping my lips.
And now we arrive at the heart of the speech, the inspirational and meaningful part. For those of you who have already been sufficiently inspired, or who have already determined the meaning of their existence, feel free to play on your phone. Just remember to laugh every once in a while so I feel like I’m being funny. But for the rest of us, we’re going in.
All right. So, since we’re never going to see each other again—unless of course you care to hop over to Sprouts at some point during the summer—I thought I should share several of my deepest and darkest secrets.
First, I dislike doing homework. No, seriously, I hate it. No me la gusta. It’s not just that it’s boring: that’s a given. It’s just that most of the time, it doesn’t feel like it’s necessary or helpful. The line between homework and busywork is indeed a blurry one because most of the time, they’re pretty much the same thing. Now, let me qualify this. Not all homework is bad. Sometimes, it’s helpful. But like the Heimlich maneuver, you’re only supposed to do it when it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise, you’re just going to make children throw up for no reason. Homework is OK when it’s intended to reinforce the things learned in class or to prepare students for the next lesson, but not when it’s just meant to make the bleak, dreary hours of school take up even more of a student’s day. In fact, homework is kind of like those 18-month wall calendars you see at like Barnes & Noble or something. Like, yeah, sure, the first 12 months are helpful, but what am I supposed to do with the last six? They don’t make calendars that start in July, right? So by July of next year, I’ll have to put up a new calendar that starts in January. But then why couldn’t I have just used that calendar? Sorry, I totally forgot where I was going with this. Anyway, students: If your grades are good and you occasionally feel stressed out and don’t want to do your homework, don’t feel like you have to. Just relax. Play on the Internet. Drink some Coca-Cola. To reiterate, I am not sponsored by them.
And second, I never took notes in class. And I only paid just enough attention to crack a joke every once in a while, but not much more. I was usually busy doing other things, like twirling pens or working on homework that was due in the following class period. And I also liked to procrastinate on my work, seldom finishing an assignment more than a day before it was due. One time, I finished an English essay at 7:00 a.m. in the morning on the due date after pulling an all-nighter. And somehow I still got a 100 percent on it. I have no idea how I got straight A’s in high school, as I was not the best student.
And I have so many more secrets to reveal. Mr. Bekins, in AP U.S. history, I wrote down all the answers to the tests in my textbook, so one lucky student this year didn’t actually have to read any of the chapters. Mrs. Whitmer, who is currently here right now, in AP Euro, I disliked doing outlines so much that I wrote—that I just underlined important passages in the textbook, and just copied them down on a sheet of paper when I got around to it, but I was too lazy to erase the marks before I gave it back to you. Mrs. Gilmore, I only read about halfway through Crime and Punishment before switching to Sparknotes for the remainder of the book. And I may or may not have stolen your Jolly Ranchers earlier in the year—hasn’t been confirmed, not saying anything. Mrs. Freeman, I hardly ever sang in choir, and when I did, I mostly sang with the ladies because I thought it was funny. And Troy, one time I stole your—oh, wait, you’re my brother. I’m not going to tell you anything.
Now let me tell you a big secret, my second biggest one in fact. I once asked a girl on a date, and you guessed it: I’m not really supposed to tell you. Earlier in the year, I had many classes with her over the course of the year, and I gradually began to notice how adorable she was. About a month ago, I typed into her calculator, "Will you please be my 1st girlfriend? Signed, Evan." And she said no. Thoroughly embarrassed, I wrote her a letter. And I will now read you this letter. Oh, God. OK.
My Dear Friend,
I am sorry I asked you to be my girlfriend. I did not intend to startle or demean you in any way. It’s just that I’ve always seen you as more than a friend on account of the hours of classes we’ve had together, and the amount of time we’ve known each other. I just wanted to get to know you even better, and be around you more, in these last few months we get to spend together before we part ways for the remainder of our lives. I think you are smart, friendly, and adorable, and you are the only girl I’ve ever had a crush on. I want you to be my girlfriend because I genuinely adore you, but I perfectly understand if you do not feel the same way about me. We will always be friends.
On a more serious note, there is something I would like to reveal to you. You may have already suspected this, but I hope this does not change your opinion of me: I am gay. I’ve been attracted to men for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never had a girlfriend because I prefer members of my own sex. But I thought that, if ever in my life I am to refer to someone as my girlfriend, it may as well be the best friend I ever had.
And I’m not quite done yet. I’m sorry. We’re getting there, though. And that’s my biggest secret of all: I’m gay. I understand this might be offensive to some people, but it’s who I am. And whether you’ve always suspected this, or this is a total shock to you, now you know. When I was writing this speech, I was endlessly debating with myself whether I should reveal this, on account of how divisive an issue this is and how gay people tend to be stereotyped, and I thought that, if I did, I should repeatedly apologize and beg you guys not to think any differently of me. But then I realized: I don’t have to. I shouldn’t have to. If there’s one thing I learned at this school, it’s that we can still be friends even if we profoundly disagree with each other. And sure: There’s only like 30 of us, so it’s not like we had much of a choice, but at times, it took a serious effort to put up with one another. We disagreed and argued about many things: about gun control, the minimum wage, politics, books, movies, who would speak at our graduation, pretty much everything else. But no matter how much we disagreed, we learned to overlook our differences and respect everyone else, no matter how wrong we thought they were, no matter how annoying they were, no matter how boring their speeches were, or no matter what weird snacks they brought to history class, from coffee creamer to coconuts. And I want everyone here to do the same. So before you leave, I have one final request for you: Hug someone. That’s right, hug someone. Students, hug a teacher. Democrats, hug a Republican. People who own a gun, hug one of those darn liberals who wants to snatch it out of your cold, dead fingers. Trekkies, hug someone who likes Star Wars more. Mel Gibson, hug a Jewish person. Conservative Christians, hug an agnostic. Hug a gay person while you’re at it, too. (Actually, please don’t because I don’t want to hug everyone here, but you get the point).
And finally, we’re at the part you’ve all been waiting for: the end of the speech. This is the part where, in the words of a sappy love letter, "we part ways for the remainder of our lives." I wrote that, oh, my gosh. OK. As these are literally the last words most of you will ever hear from me, I’ll avoid saying anything stupid and keep it short and simple: Goodbye, everyone. I’ll miss you. And whatever happens to us and wherever we go, my only hope is that "We’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when..."
AMY GOODMAN: That was 18-year-old Evan Young giving the graduation address he didn’t get to give at his high school graduation ceremony. He was the 2015 class valedictorian of Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont, Colorado. His school prevented him from addressing his classmates at graduation after learning he planned to out himself as gay in his speech. The school also refused to formally recognize him as its valedictorian. On Sunday, he did get to deliver that address at the annual garden party benefiting the gay rights group Out Boulder.
For more, we go directly to Denver, where Evan Young has woken up early to join us.
Welcome and congratulations, Evan. How does it feel to finally have given your address?
EVAN YOUNG: Oh, it was amazing. I had a—I was very nervous, actually. A lot of my friends had read the speech before, and they all said they liked it, but I wasn’t really sure like which jokes they liked, which parts they didn’t like. But for the most part, when I gave my speech, it seemed like everyone liked the whole thing, and it was just awesome.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened? When did you learn you were not allowed to give your address on May 16th, when you were the valedictorian, the one who is supposed to give the address?
EVAN YOUNG: So, basically, what happened is I sent the principal a copy of my speech, a rough draft, on the Tuesday—or on the Monday before the graduation ceremony. And the next day, he reviewed the speech and didn’t like some parts. He especially didn’t like the part where I said that I was gay. And then I made most of the edits he asked me to, but I didn’t remove the part where he asked—where he told me—the part where I revealed that I’m gay, because I thought that part was very important to the speech. And I wrote him a hand-written letter where I explained to him why I wasn’t going to remove this part of the speech. And then he told me about five minutes before the ceremony began that I wasn’t allowed to speak.
AMY GOODMAN: You were at the ceremony with your speech in hand?
EVAN YOUNG: Yeah, I’d been practicing all day. I was kind of disappointed that I wasn’t allowed to give it.
AMY GOODMAN: And why did he say you weren’t allowed to give it?
EVAN YOUNG: At the actual ceremony, he did not give me any particular reason. He just said, "You’re not going to be allowed to speak."
AMY GOODMAN: And how did you feel?
EVAN YOUNG: At the time, I was actually very mad. I had spent a lot of time preparing that speech. And, well, I’m kind of—I’m not mad anymore, but at the time I was very frustrated. And I felt kind of bad because I didn’t want to ruin the event for any of my friends. And I don’t think I did. But yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: You outed yourself in the speech. Since he had read it, he knew what you were going to say. He called your parents and told them that you are gay?
EVAN YOUNG: That is correct. Yes, he did.
AMY GOODMAN: Were they surprised?
EVAN YOUNG: Not really. They weren’t too upset with me or anything.
AMY GOODMAN: How did it feel to give the speech last night?
EVAN YOUNG: It was awesome. Just like everyone liked the whole thing, as I said before. And I didn’t think that would happen. I was so nervous going up there, but I gradually warmed up to the crowd.
AMY GOODMAN: Evan, we have to—we have to wrap up the show, but I want to continue talking to you. We’ll post it online at democracynow.org. (See Part 2 here.) Jared Polis, the congressmember, was there. He gave you a major citation. Many politicians were there.