Saturday, May 22, 2004

Plug Pulled on Graduation Speaker

TARA MAY, GRAND RAPIDS PRESS, MI - It was not the speech that school officials approved. So they pulled the plug on Nicholas Noel's commencement speech to fellow graduates Wednesday night when in the fourth sentence the senior class president referred to Grand Rapids Union High School as a "prison."

As more than 1,000 people watched, power to the microphone was cut and Noel returned to his seat at Ford Field House. Officials later refused to give him his diploma, although a school spokeswoman said he would receive it soon.

"He has nothing to apologize for," said his mother, Connie Noel. "It was a perfectly good speech, and they would've realized that if they had allowed him to talk."

Noel said he described the school as "the Union High Prison System" because students were expected to act alike. The message of his speech was that high school paints for students "a picture of life that is incomplete," he said. "The colors of life are yet to come," Noel said. "It was really nice, nothing in bad taste. I tried to be different, and I was punished."

He said the rest of his speech would have been positive if he had been allowed to finish it. A copy of his written speech goes on to call Union a "foul institution" and a "horribly irresponsible and depraved place to learn these life lessons...."

But it also said Union's mix of cultures provides "bizarre training" for the real world. He wraps up by quoting Hunter S. Thompson: "Who is the happier man, He who has braved the storm of life and lived. Or he who has stayed securely on the shore and merely existed."

Assistant Principal Ken Larsen said commencement speeches must be approved before graduation, according to school policy.

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