How Two Little Letters Could Stand Between You and Your Diploma

Beth Dumbauld

By Brittany Hege

Whether we're getting flipped off for cutting someone off in traffic, or maybe we're just expressing ourselves after feeling the initial sharp pain of a headache or electric bill (they go hand-in-hand), swearing just sort of happens sometimes, often; without consequence.

But what about when it happens during a public speech in front of hundreds?

According to a news article by Stephanie Grimes of, an Oklahoma valedictorian was denied her diploma for using profanity in her Prague High School graduation speech.

That's right, Kaitlin Nootbaar “deviated from her pre-approved script by two letters,” enough for the school to deny the student her diploma.

Concerning his daughter's speech, David Nootbaar said, “When she first started school she wanted to be a nurse, then a veterinarian and now that she was getting closer to graduation, people would ask her, what do you want to do and she said 'How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times.'”

Did you catch it? Apparently, during her speech, Kaitlin slipped up and replaced the pre-approved “heck” with “hell.” And even though she was given a warm reception from the audience after presenting the speech, “she was reportedly told she could not have [her diploma] until she issued a written letter of apology, which Kaitlin has declined to do.”

As a recent college graduate, I can sympathize with Kaitlin. Perhaps her use of the word “hell” was a simple slip of honesty, a frustration with an uncertain future, one that can be felt by many recent grads. Why else would #postgradprobs be trending right now on Twitter?

Adding to the burden of soon-to-be graduates, many universities play by the all-too-familiar old college model, where students are at the mercy of institutions that exist to take their money, not to serve them, and that make them take overpriced courses that have nothing to do with their futures.

But with the new generation of schools, those that employ the competency-based education model, there is hope. Students can earn credit for their prior learning experiences and choose from online colleges and universities like Western Governors University, Excelsior College, Kaplan University, and SUNY Empire State College.

Here at StraighterLine, we think it's about time students were given the upper hand in their education. And we believe it's wrong for any college to deny a student, a valedictorian (mind you), the diploma she earned and paid for, for using a word that appears on prime time network TV.

We'd love to hear what you guys think. Is swearing in a graduation speech enough reason to hold up a valedictorian's diploma?

About the author . . . . Fresh out of art school and obsessed with digital music, Brittany uses her love of sound to inject her writing with rhythm and just the right amount of rhyme. When she's not tweeting, blogging, or facebooking, she's either at a local concert or playfully poking fun of reality TV stars (and enjoying every second of it).

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