“As I was saying…”
Such a simple sentiment, yet what a profound impact. Bryce Dershem was delivering his valedictory speech at the Eastern Regional High School commencement ceremony in Voorhees, New Jersey when he began serving too much realness for the powers-that-be.
“After I came out as queer freshman year, I felt so alone. I didn’t know who to turn to for support.”
But before Dershem could finish his statement, Principal Robert Tull illustrated the exact bigotry the star student was describing. The administrator pulled the plug on the teenager, then approached his podium. After crumpling Dershem’s prepared remarks, Principal A-hole ordered the pupil to read a safer, more sanitized speech.
Dershem tells the Philadelphia Inquirer that the replacement speech was something “they had essentially written for me and said, ‘You read this, or nothing else.’”
The incident ignited an emotional cauldron. “At this point I’m about to cry,” admits Dershem. But he didn’t earn the title of valedictorian for nothing. Dershem had memorized his message, so once the tech team pretended to “fix” the mic, he continued unabated.
“As I was saying…”
The crowd applauded Dershem, who launched into a fiercely personal account of his battles with homophobia and anorexia.
“I am a fighter, and today I am a survivor.”
And immediately following the graduation proceedings, Dershem added savior to his résumé. A woman who had lost her child to suicide approached the orator with a hug and a message of her own.
“She said she’d wished her son had heard the speech, because people need to hear these messages.”
Sloughing away the doubt and distress his principal had caused by attempting to censor Dersham, he concludes, “I knew then I did the right thing.”
Compassion is never wrong, and in this case, it flourishes into heroism. Encore, Bryce Dershem. Encore.
Photo: YouTube Screenshot @Michael Dershem
Last modified: June 29, 2021