When Marvin Wright gave a speech at his North Carolina high school graduation last week, it was not the address school administrators had told him to deliver

Katie Reilly
Jun, 16, 2017

This article originally appeared in Time.

When Marvin Wright gave a speech at his North Carolina high schoolgraduation last week, it was not the address school administrators had told him to deliver — and he says the school initially withheld his diploma because of it.

Wright, the senior class president at Southwest Edgecombe High School, said he was surprised and disappointed on the day of his graduation when school administrators gave him prepared remarks to read instead of the speech he had written.

At the podium, Wright, 18, ignored the folder that contained the school's remarks and pulled out his phone to read his own, after receiving encouragement from his classmates and teachers.

"I looked at my classmates and most of them were nodding their head, like ‘Go ahead, Marvin, read your speech,'" he said.

In the speech, he told his classmates: "Even though I can't predict the future, I know that we all have the ability to make a difference in this world. For you should have the mindset that not only will you graduate today, but every day is a graduation."

Wright said that each year at Southwest Edgecombe, the senior class president delivers remarks at graduation, and he looked forward to taking part in the tradition. As graduation approached, he wrote the speech he wanted to deliver — only to be told on the morning of graduation that he needed to read brief remarks prepared by the school instead, he said. Wright said the school's principal, Craig Harris, initially told his mother that he was never supposed to write his own speech and then said he had missed the deadline to turn it in. But Wright said he had not received those guidelines.

"When he got on the stage, I didn’t know which speech he was going to read because he did text me and ask me what should he do," said his mother, Jokita Wright. "He was kind of confused because he didn’t want to be embarrassed. I just said, 'Baby, follow your heart.'"

She described her son as an outspoken "people person." "Everybody loves him, and he’s a great kid at home. He works two jobs, he does his school work, good grades," she said.

When students lined up to receive their official diplomas after the ceremony, Marvin Wright was told he'd have to retrieve his from the principal. He found the principal's door locked, so he left the school empty-handed on graduation day.

"It was absolutely an overreaction by the administration and totally uncalled for," said Edgecombe County Public Schools Superintendent John Farrelly, who apologized to the Wrights on behalf of the school.

"I thought the speech was fine. It was appropriate. I found nothing wrong with the content of the speech," he said. " The administration gave the order, which never should’ve happened, to pull his diploma. I believe the administration did so because they were upset he didn’t follow the protocol." In addition to the school preparing remarks — which Farrelly said has happened in the past — that protocol included a ban on electronic devices at the ceremony.

Harris delivered the diploma to Marvin Wright on Sunday.

"I am no expert in this journey we call life but we all have the ability to make a difference and to be that change the world needs," Marvin Wright, who is entering into the Navy, said in his address. "The past 13 years have equipped us for a time as this to stand bold in who we are."

Here are the remarks prepared by the school:

I would like to thank all of our friends and family for being here tonight. I would also like to address my fellow graduates one last time before we leave this gym. Although we may all never be in the same room at the same time again, we will always share the memories that we created within these walls. And no matter what we all do after graduation, never forget that this is one place that we all have in common, this place is home. Congratulations graduates, we did it!

Read Marvin Wright's full speech here:

Good evening to all who are gathered on today for the commencement of Southwest High School’s 2017 graduating class. My name is Marvin Wright and I am delighted to be standing here as your senior class president.

First and foremost, I want to thank God for making all of this possible. Secondly, I would like to thank all of the parents and family members for the unconditional love you have provided my classmates and I during our unpredictable phases of life, for ultimately sticking with us through thick and thin, and giving us constant guidance. I would like to also thank the faculty and staff of Southwest for instilling knowledge and preparing us for the next chapter that we will soon embark on. And lastly, but certainly not least, I would like to personally thank my mother, Jokita Wright, for all of the sacrifices you have made for my two siblings and I. Selfless, strong, determined, humorous, provider, protector are only a few attributes that exhibit who you are, which motivates me day to day. So, Thank you Mom! For without you I would not be standing here today.

Now, class of 2017.... this it it! We have finally made it. There are no other people I’d rather have spent my high school years with than all of you. Most of the students in our graduating class have known each other since elementary school, which is an accumulation of 13 consecutive years.

When we take a walk down memory lane we can all visualize ourselves being young, naïve, tiny elementary school kids who relied on nap time throughout Kindergarten, who look forward to recess every day, and counted down the days and minutes until the biggest event of elementary school…field day.

Then we moved onto middle school where things didn’t work in our favor, such as me not hitting my intended growth spurt. Middle school was a transition period of having your own locker, having multiple teachers, dress codes were challenged in trying to figure out how to come up with your own “style” by also following the uniform guidelines, and athletics became an outlet for students who sought competition.

Finally, we made it to high school. There was more freedom, better lunch choices, and opportunities for us to explore, to figure out who we are.

It seems like yesterday we were timid freshmen excited to be part of the mature crowd, but unsure where we would fit in. For many of us, our first year in high school was a time where the temptation to look at your cell phone was unbearable and sometimes we caved in, which resulted in us getting our phones taken. Or how about when we attended our first Friday Night Lights football game in which we were able to stay out late and hang with our friends.

Sophomore year then quickly approached us where we knew the routine and thought we knew it all, but in reality we were still being overlooked because we were still considered under classmen.

Junior year, reality sunk in. We did all that we could to build up our resume by being committed to our academics, participating in varsity sports, and taking leadership positions in different clubs. We also took the necessary steps to prepare ourselves for the SAT and ACT, as well as faced the immense task of figuring out a timeline that will prepare us for after high school. I think it is safe to say that although junior year was the most stressful and challenging, it was the most rewarding.

Once the class of 2016 walked across the stage we were finally seniors! The year we had been dreaming of since freshmen year, was finally here. There was so many things to look forward to: seniority, senior prom, senior picnic, receiving our caps and gowns, and the list goes on. As seniors everything seemed different…teachers became mentors, friends became family, and Southwest High School became home. Little did we know that this year would come at a blink of an eye and the past four years would boil down to this day where all the hard work, laughs, tears, and long hours will have paid off.

Even though today is an accomplishment for the entire 2017 class and all of those who have helped us on this journey, it is going to take a lot of adjusting to get use to not seeing every single one of you on a daily basis. Even though I can't predict the future I know that we all have the ability to make a difference in this world. For you should have the mindset that not only will you graduate today, but everyday is a graduation. This ultimately means that graduation is a continuous process in which you should strive to true lifelong learning of continuous, self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for personal improvement.

I am no expert in this journey we call life but we all have the ability to make a difference and to be that change the world needs. The past 13 years have equipped us for a time as this to stand bold in who we are. So I say to my classmates, cherish these last few minutes we spend here and the memories we have created and get ready for the journey ahead.

Thank you guys for making my senior year better than I could ever imagine and for all the moments I will always hold dear to my heart. Thank you, and congratulations to the class of 2017!!!