Ah, Hell.

This week in the news there was a story about a girl in Oklahoma that did not receive her diploma when she should have. That isn’t all that uncommon. The Department of Education says that the dropout rate in the United States as of 2010 is at 7.4%. What that report fails to mention is that although many of the children graduate, less than 80% do so when they are scheduled to. That means tax payers are paying for extra years of education for more than 20% of ALL children that attend and graduate public schools.

But this story from Oklahoma was not about a girl that did poorly on her academics or failed a “test”. It was not about a girl that chronically missed days or committed a heinous crime. As a matter of fact, the girl in question was Valedictorian for her class and held a 4.0 grade average. In the entirety of her education, she had never made a B. And while she will be attending college this fall, she will do so without an official diploma.


Well, it seems the girl said “hell” during her graduation speech. This was an offensive word, although she was quoting a lame movie, and the principal has decided to blackmail the girl. Blackmail? Oh, yes. See, she completed all the requirements that guarantee she gets the diploma, but this power wielding administrator has decided he will hold onto it until the young women crawls to his feet, kisses his big toe, begs forgiveness and writes an apology in her own blood.

I am over-dramatizing to make my point, but really, I’m not. See, I think this man is on a power-trip and definitely needs to be taken down a notch or two. He didn’t discipline her at the time of the “cussing”. No, he waited for months, let the whole summer pass and made it to where she had to come to his office to get her diploma.  Isn’t he such a clever little tyrant? At that time he told her he had it but there was a problem. If the girl had been hateful in her use of the word, I might understand punishment being doled out at the time of the incident. But it wasn’t and the man has no legal grounds with which to stand on when it comes to holding her diploma.

The girl, good on her, refuses to kowtow to his demands and I actually respect her for it. Because honestly, walk down any school hallway in this country during class change, any grocery aisle during a busy time, turn on any tv and scan the channels and I guarantee you WILL hear any number of profanities that make this girl’s ode to Twilight seem like the innocent silliness it was meant to be. Her father summed it up pretty well actually when he said he was a veteran and could see no point in men and women risking their lives to insure our rights if we weren’t willing to stand our ground and protect them here at home. Then again when the girl was asked if she would apologize, she said no because it would be a lie and that would be a sin. Hmm…17 year old has more common sense than most people twice her age.

What would you do if your child let slip the H-E- double L? What would you do if your child was in this exact same predicament? Would you make her apologize or would you stand with her and tell the principal thanks but no thanks?

Seems to me, we need a few million more girls like this. You know…free-thinking-4.0 ers and a few less narrow-minded-tyrant-principals in this country. Then, maybe children would graduate in the allotted time and save a few taxpayer dollars.

About Diane Graham

Diane Graham lives in the mountains of eastern Oklahoma with her husband, children and many dogs. She is an avid reader and lover of all art forms that encapsulate imagination and goodness. Her debut novel I Am Ocilla was released in March 2012.

14 comments on “Ah, Hell.

  1. I say we storm the school and liberate the diploma and present it to the young lady. I’m so rabid dog mad that I could just go bite that principle on the leg. I had a horrid teacher who made me apologise to him in front of a whole class once because I shouted (and used a REAL obscenity) at him during a drivers ed meltdown. Why apologise in front of the class – they weren’t there when it happened, the point was to humilate me and assert his power. This is a tiny little incident compared to being denied your rightfully hard worked for and won diploma, but the way I see it this man is holding out for an apology because he wants to assert his power and humiliate the valedictorian. Has she been asked to apologise to each and every person who heard her utter the (oh my!) word hell? Did General Shermon famously give us the phrase, “War is hell” because he was a foul mouthed hooligan? Sure, there must be a multitude of famous utterances of the word hell by notable Americans – but if war is hell then this one is a war worth fighting. I will finish off with one last snippet from Robert Frost – as I’m an old NH Yankee myself of bygone days, and I hpe my friend Diane Graham will nod in approval: I hold it to be the inalienable right of anybody to go to hell in his own way.”
    ― Robert Frost

    • Ha! It is a matter of her intent that has me irritated on this one. anyone with an ounce of sense would know she was not being a hooligan.

  2. Indeed.

    Perhaps an internet campaign is in order.
    Campaign for More Free Thinking 4.0 Students Who Stand by their actions int he face of tyranny

    Sounds good, no?

    • Hmm…maybe even be considered responsible? Perish the thought. We are droids that are fed our words and only get in trouble when we do not say them right. *snark*

  3. Diane,

    She really should be bright enough, given that 4.0, to know when and where to pick her battles. So should he. I wouldn’t have made her write an apology and make a big deal about it, but then…maybe he figured that she’s smart enough not to use *that word* from the podium, particularly since she’d soft-pedaled the phrase in the speech she submitted for approval.

    Maybe he thought she did that on purpose, soft-pedaling it in the written-for-approval version, and then blurting the more offensive word from the podium for shock effect. Maybe he’d had other go-rounds with her where she’d just barely kept within the letter of the law while completely disregarding the spirit. MAYBE he’d been waiting for a teachable moment when there was something she very badly wanted from him that he could use to teach her a lesson about responsibility and manipulating others.

    Maybe there have been a string of incidents like this at his school–I’ve certainly heard of them at other schools–and he decided to make an example of her–and having her pitch a public fit like she did is working out very well for him!

    You see, I’ve got a daughter who’s bright enough to pull stuff like this. It can be a very time-consuming challenge at times to figure out HOW to drive the point across that she is NOT EVER, in this life, really going to get away with those games–that they are going to cost her until her life is a shambles of misery and suffering, and the only person she will have to blame for it is herself. I discipline her for creating complicated situations for herself and for others, not because I don’t believe in freedom of speech, but because I love her and I want to see her make a godly success of herself.

    And I wonder if this principal cares enough about the students under him to teach them lessons like this too, even when no one else appreciates the effort.

    And if this girl didn’t say that word on purpose, well, slips of the tongue do happen. She can still woman up, and take responsibility for what slipped out. Accepting responsibility for her actions when there is constructive criticism of them will still make her a bigger person than she is now.

    So yeah, I’d encourage her to get over her moment of national fame and rebellion, apologize in writing since that’s what he asked her to do, and find better ways to win friends and influence people than using the “h” word when she’s in a position of trust and responsibility where everyone expects her NOT to do that.

    • Hmm…I can see both sides of your argument, but I’m going to stick with my original thoughts for a few reasons.
      #1 He waited 3 months to drop this on her. 3 months means he plotted it and thought he was being very clever. He is not her parent, or her employer. As a matter of fact, he is no longer her principal.
      #2 I don’t care if they did have a string of incidents in the past. She quoted a movie. Period. If it had been Gone With Wind”s “frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” would that have been acceptable?
      #3 What harm was done by this girl by saying hell instead of heck? Did someone die? Was someone oppressed?
      #4 Is this punishment fitting to the “crime”. In other words, are all students that let a cuss word fly denied their diplomas? See you cannot treat one differently than another.
      #5 It is NOT any principal’s job to teach a lesson to a young adult that directly contradicts the Constitution or her own father. Tyrants and bullies teach those kinds of lessons.
      #6 Her father pitched the public fit. Obviously, that exposes tyrants for their tyranny. Sorry, I am not one of those people that think other people have my child’s best interest at heart more than I do. As a matter of fact, I know all too well that not one other human knows and loves my child like my husband and me. I’d be willing to bet that this girl’s father loves her just the same considering he went to the school with her and went to the media for her.
      #7 We are a nation of laws. This principal just broke a few. What kind of example is HE setting for the children in his school? Do what I say, not what I do? I have power, peon, bow at my feet?

      The fact of the matter is this was a non-issue until the principal plotted revenge over the summer and holding her diploma for ransom in trade for her submission to his will. Last time I checked, God does NOT have homebase in Oklahoma.

      • And–mostly I agree with you. It certainly wouldn’t have been the fight that I picked. I’d like to think that I’m smarter than that– and if I’m honest, I wouldn’t have cared enough to make an issue out of it, but would have smiled, handed her the diploma and let her go off to become Someone Else’s problem! In fact, I can see myself MAILING that diploma to her just so I wouldn’t have to deal with her large and in person.

        ON the other hand; This principal has now garnered free publicity for his school and his methods, however extreme they’re perceived to be, she’s also had free publicity; there really is NO SUCH THING as too much publicity except when there are gutwrenching societal taboos involved, and she’s headed off to college without her diploma in hand.

        And oh, btw, why DID it take 3 months for her to return to retrieve her diploma? She’d have been smarter to have her father contact the office staff and ask them to mail it asap after graduation. I’m still scratching my head over how that one came about.

        But unless those who hired him disagree with him, he still has his job and no immediate, practical consequence for his decision on the job; he now has the media attention, AND he has her diploma.

        She STILL comes off as not winning this deal.

        I’m not sure which laws you think he could have broken.

        Whether or not it should morally be so, the courts have upheld the rights of public schools to severely limit students’ free speech, especially when those students are speaking for/representing their school in instances almost exactly like this one.

        (I’m quite okay with limiting certain kinds of student speech, especially where they’re shouting obscenities at their teachers and fellow students, and refusing to be quiet in class)

        She had to clear her speech with the school before presenting it; she should have stuck to what it says. It’s just one of those “position of responsibility” things.

        One more thing: All we have and are going to have discussed publicly is her and her father’s admittedly biased view of these events. The principal isn’t going to discuss his decision, why she waited three months to retrieve her diploma or how any of this came about from his point of view, since there are laws protecting her privacy that keep him from speaking out.

        It all seems very unbalanced to me.

        And now, I’m shutting up!

      • Well, state and federal laws are very strict on what a child must do in order to earn a diploma. This girl did it in spades. She was valedictorian, after all. Her record was unblemished. And I understand how the school system works. It is not that they actually have the power they wield by proxy. It is a contract signed by parents that grants the school the power. It is the handbook. But, if the handbook does not clearly state that will be the punishment for cussing, the school has not a leg to stand on. Then you have to consider the cussing occurred while the girl was still under contract with the school, but the punishment was doled out long after the contract expired. You are getting yourself into a whole other mess of worms there.
        So as it stands from what I just listed, you have a state law, a federal law and a contract law broken. That’s three. Then, you have blackmail. That is a federal crime. He has no authority to hold her property. See, that contract has a double edge. She held up her end of it. The school, didn’t and are now trying to blackmail the girl. That’s four. Then you have official oppression. That’s the one where a person in a trusted seat of power uses his position to violate an individual’s rights. In this case, he has violated two…freedom of speech and The right to live her life as she sees fit. That’s two more.
        I bet I could find more, but I think my point has been made. Two wrongs do not a right make. Six won’t get you there either. If the girl was wrong, which I do not believe she was.
        And for the record, she does win. The court of public opinion stands at 74% against him. That is not the publicity he wanted and will probably lose him his job. The girl still gets to go to college on her full scholarship and doesn’t have to deal with the likes of him again. He only holds the document. By state and federal law they provided the transcript to the college.

        • Diane,

          I wasn’t going to say anything more, and then I remembered a few things that have been happening at UNL–and I thought I would share them with you, because I get the impression that you will be just as indignant over them as I was!

          1) Professors in the math and science departments train their students as research assistants, and then they don’t want to let them graduate, so they keep adding on new requirements to their programs of study or changing the requirements to keep their trained assistants from graduating.

          This becomes very expensive for the students, but the profs have them over a barrel.

          2) UNL had this one program that had three doctoral students in it. This year the university chose to cut that entire program mid-semester. One or more of these students was very close to finishing the program, but now they can’t get credit for the work completed, and they can’t get their doctorates. The one student we know best has only been able to obtain a second Master’s degree instead. This is not what he applied to UNL for, or spent all that money to achieve, but nothing can be done about it.

      • Ah, that is wrong on so many levels, and you are right, my friend, it irritates the heck out of me. The only relief I see for the students that had their degrees highjacked is civil suit. But, then, they have to weigh the options of return on investment, because you can bet that any civil lawsuit is a gamble. Of course, if they could gather more than five students and join together, they could take on the school and the individual professors. But personally, I would not take that beast on. Ha! It’s like taking on the government, local or otherwise, which I have done before. But you can bet it will be a long and drawn out affair with little return for your trouble. Indeed, pick your battles. 😀

  4. I agree, Diane. Rule No. 1 in discipline is you have to correct the infraction when it happens. Rule No. 2 is the punishment must fit the infraction. This infraction is so puny it hardly warrants any punishment at all. I mean, a glaring look over the spectacles, maybe. A little lecture about falsifying the written version. As it is, he’s just blown the whole think out of proportion and made himself look like a donkey’s hindquarters.

  5. Reason #784981 I homeschooled. Was it a Christian school with a strict policy? Did she do it on purpose, to be rude? It strikes me as inane and stupid, and on a side note – she doesn’t even need the dipoloma does she? I never did get around to filling out my homeschooler’s high school diplomas. Now that they’re out of college, I doubt I ever will.

    • She was just being silly and no one seemed to be offended other than the power-tripping principal. She doesn’t need the diploma. 😀

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