Prague student denied diploma for commencement speech

Kaitlin Nootbaar, valedictorian of Prague High School, was denied her diploma after her commencement speech strayed from an administration-approved version that didn't include the word “hell.” Prague is a community located about 60 miles east of Oklahoma City.
BY MEGAN ROLLAND mrolland@opubco.com Modified: August 20, 2012 at 11:43 pm •  Published: August 20, 2012

— David Nootbaar said it's sadly ironic that his daughter, Kaitlin, was denied her diploma for saying “hell” in her valedictorian speech for Prague High School, where the mascot is the Red Devil.

“In church on Sunday they say ‘hell' at least four times,” Nootbaar said, standing across from the school district's office, which includes an electronic marquee showing a small demon holding a pitchfork.

The story of a school withholding a valedictorian's diploma received international media attention Monday, and Kaitlin Nootbaar was bombarded with supportive messages on Facebook, as well as friend requests.

“First off, I would like to thank everyone who is backing me on this, especially my friends and family. And to those who don't agree with me, that is fine also. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” she wrote in a Facebook post Monday.

David Nootbaar said his daughter used the word in reference to not knowing what she was going to do after graduation. “Who the hell knows?”

Diplomas are largely symbolic. Academic transcripts showing completed courses, however, can be essential, and the state doesn't empower schools to withhold them.

David Nootbaar said the district has turned over his daughter's transcript, and she started her first day Monday at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in Weatherford on a full-ride scholarship.

School chief's response

Still, the Prague School District's handbook indicates the district can withhold diplomas, and — contrary to state law — transcripts for unpaid fines or outstanding debts.

It states nothing about inappropriate behavior during commencement but does require that students participate in commencement exercises.

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