Bad Valedictorian Ethics, Round #2: The Cut-Off Mic

This one is easy.

I would have pulled the plug too.

I would have pulled the plug too.

At  Joshua (Tex.) High School, a Valedictorian, in this case one Remington Reimer, agreed to deliver school-approved text and nothing else as his graduation speech. Following the unethical example of double-crossing Valedictorian Roy Costner, recently slobbered over by Fox News as if he were a hero (imagine if Costner had torn up his promised speech and began bashing the Tea Party—do you think Megyn Kelly would have been kissing his shoes on the air then?), Reimer decided to grandstand as well, changing his speech from what he had assured the school he would be delivering. But while he broke his promise, the school, to its credit, did not. He had been told that if he pulled a Costner, his microphone would be turned off. As the wags at Fark neatly put it,  “If you go off-script during your valedictorian speech and mention that you were threatened with having your microphone cut if you were to indeed go off-script, then your microphone just might get cut off for going off-script.” That’s what happened to Remington.


His intended speech was published in a local paper. He lost his amplification as he was trying to say,

“We are all fortunate to live in a country where we can express our beliefs, where our mics won’t be turned off, as I have been threatened to be if I veer away from the school-censored speech I have just finished. Just as Jesus spoke out against the authority of the Pharisees and Sadducees, who tried to silence him, I will not have my freedom of speech taken away from me. And I urge you all to do the same. Do not let anyone take away your religious or Constitutional rights from you.”

It appears, as Fark could have predicted but apparently he could not, that this noble but ignorant sentiment was cut off mid-way through his first sentence. There’s a lot Remington has failed to learn in four years—it’s a marvel that he’s a Valedictorian at all. For example,

  • He doesn’t know that agreements have to be kept, because they are commitments.
  • He doesn’t understand that there are consequences of violating agreements.
  • He doesn’t know that nobody has a right to use a microphone at a public event.
  • He doesn’t comprehend that his school’s promise the turn off his mic wasn’t a threat. It was a stated consequence of a breach.
  • He doesn’t realize that nobody was trying to take his Freedom of Speech away from him. He could give his preferred speech anywhere but a locale legitimately controlled by someone who didn’t want him speaking it.
  • No one was taking his religious or Constitutional rights away from Reimer either. He just doesn’t know what either are.

A school is only being responsible by telling someone who doesn’t understand the Constitution or the rights it embraces that they have no business lecturing on the topic.

Students through the centuries have benefited from both the honor and the experience of giving Valedictorian addresses, and audiences have often benefited too. Vainglorious, grandstanding and arrogant juveniles like Costner and Reimer will only accomplish one thing: they will eventually force schools to eliminate the tradition, because every Valedictorian will be suspected trying to grab 15 minutes of fame by rigging a personal martyrdom, and the schools won’t be able to trust in their honor, honesty, and respect for the ceremony, as once they could. By their selfish insistence on demanding a speech right that does not exist, these myopic rebels and those who are sure to follow them will only succeed in diminishing speaking opportunities for others.

Nice work, guys.


Facts: The Blaze

29 thoughts on “Bad Valedictorian Ethics, Round #2: The Cut-Off Mic

  1. The other day the discussion was about the perception female trial lawyers.. I’m guessing that there are at least as many female valedictorians as male… Do we ever hear about them trying to pull a stunt like this? Someone should be promoting rogue female valedictorians. (Jack? Less Blaze and more Huffington and MSNBC lol).

    How is it that teens are outsmarting school administrators? Once again a Valedictorian didn’t break the law, didn’t spend any money and was rewarded with valuable free promotion.

    To question the ethics of either boy, one has to ask, did they achieve their goal, and at what cost to themselves or others? It’s just a speech, and not about hate or subversion. You don’t have to agree with inflicting a religious message or misunderstanding of the 1st Amendment, but should admire their spirit.

    • 1. The Blaze’s article was notable for making it it clear that the mic was not cut at the mention of religion, but just when the kid went off the rails. The Blaze is surprisingly even-handed when it covers non-political stories. I don’t link to every source I check; if I did, I’d never get a thing posted.
      2. Outsmart? The word is “lie.” It’s not hard to get a disapproved speech in front of an audience if you can’t be trusted. What’s impressive about that?
      3. “To question the ethics of either boy, one has to ask, did they achieve their goal, and at what cost to themselves or others?” Not if we want to use valid ethical analysis we don’t. What does achieving their goal have to do with ethics? Even if its a valid goal, it still is “ends justifies the means” conduct via a double-cross. What does the cost to themselves matter? The cost to others is conventionalism—what matters is that the organizers of the event were foiled in their legitimate objectives by dishonesty. “It’s not about hate or subversion” is pure rationalization—yeah, and nobody got shot, either.
      4. I recognize the “spirit” of Bill Clinton, Valerie Jarrett, pimps, Marion Barry, Charlie Rangel, Hillary Clinton, Bill Maher, Michael Savage, Michele Bachmann, the Khardashians, drug smugglers, Pat Robertson, Assad, Putin,the illegals who come to America without permission or due process, oh, thousands and thousands of rogues, miscreants, liars and hustlers, but this blog isn’t called “Spirits Alarms.” Enthusiasm and risk-taking is ethically neutral—it can be employed for good ends. Jack the Ripper had spirit; Blackbeard had spirit; Juian Assange has spirit. I really admire spirit when it’s focused on selfless, productive, honorable objectives and not cheap juvenile grandstanding.

  2. It is nice to see a young person stand up for his beliefs and encourage his fellow classmates. We are such a judgemental society. Why not listen to the Lord’s Prayer for once? It speaks volumes and it was a very small portion of his speech. Good job, Roy!

    • Pretty pathetic, Laurie:

      1. Nobody was attacking be “beliefs.” I give ethics lectures. If I am told, “Don’t lecture the class about getting enough exercise,” even if I’m a jogging fiend, I have no business dragging that “belief ” into my presentation.
      2. Encourage them to do what? Break agreements? Lie? turn what is a group exercise into self-promotion?
      3. “We are such a judgmental society.” Moronic and irresponsible. Read the blog. Every society is either judgmental about conduct, or it makes no judgments and descends into anarchy. Judging dishonesty as wrong is an ongoing obligation of society and everyone in it. This is a fatuous, lazy thing to say. Stop saying it.
      4. “It speaks volumes”—of what? It speaks to me of a kid who thinks everything is about him, and that he is free to break agreements and rules at whim. I wouldn’t hire him. Some colleges would have rescinded their acceptances. I would.
      5.”It was a very small portion of his speech.” Good God! It would have been an even smaller portion if he had yelled out, “Fuck Jesus!” or “Heil Hitler.” Were you TRYING To appeal to every rationalization on the list?

  3. This is why I think valedictorians should be elected by the graduating class, rather than just giving it to the person with the highest grades. That way, if the valedictorian veers off message, gives a weird speech or gets his or her microphone cut off, the students have fewer grounds for complaint because they bear some of the responsibility.

    • So the most popular kid is awarded?

      Not the kid who pursued academics most rigorously?

      Just what we need, institutional endorsement of the vapid material/narcissist culture to which we’ve devolved. At least we’d be consistent.

      • Why not, if the most popular kid is the person the majority of students want to hear. You can always give a different prize to the student with the highest grades.

          • The valedictorian is the student who delivers the farewell speech. It need not be the person who has the highest grades. Traditionally, the honour of giving the valedictory speech has been given to the student with the highest grades. I am in favour of changing that tradition.

            • I’d agree with you, except I think it would aggravate the problem. Most classes would elect, I suspect, the biggest wise-ass, and the one most likely to stick a finger in the eye of the school.

              • My high school elected valedictorians. The valedictorians of the two graduations that I attended gave great, though more conventional, speeches. One of the valedictorians for one of the classes above mine did just about what you predicted. Actually, from what I heard and read about his speech, he criticized the graduating class more than the school. I think it was an act of collective self-deprecation on the part of the class.

                • How long ago was this, Eric? Because social media creates a stronger incentive than ever to try for a Hail Mary media pass. When I was student, I may well have been the designated wise ass, and young JAM then, with the chance to make a big media splash by deciding to, say, go off script and condemn the school for having double standards in discipline for college track students and the rest, bolstered by an early acceptance to Harvard, might have done a Costner.

                  • This was in 2003, just after Myspace launched and just before Facebook. The media did report on this guy, portraying it as a “revenge of the nerds” scenario.

        • At my graduation, the class president also gave an address. She was elected into her post by a class vote. 😉

          I recall one graduation I attended where the valedictorian was inspired to veer off-script with admirable results. It was a very gusty day, and many of the seniors hadn’t taken precautions to pin their sashes and/or secure their caps… so we watched as they struggled against the wind to keep their garments in place.
          During the valedictorian’s speech, he used the wind as a metaphor for life, and the importance of being prepared for the unexpected. He referred to a good education as “the pin” which secures us. I complimented him on his address after the ceremony, and he confessed to improvising his “pin” part of the speech, inspired by the windy day. 🙂

    • Good grief, Eric. As if electioneering for class prez and prom royalty weren’t enough, you now want to have students stumping for an honor that will enhance, directly or indirectly, their futures in academics, employment, and reputation.

      • Maybe I’m having a cultural disconnect here. In Canada, there is a prize for the top student in the graduating class that is distinct from the valedictorian honour. In Canada, people would put that on their resume if they were the top of their class. Some schools also award the valedictorian honour to the person who is top of the class, but not all. In Canada, being a valedictorian does not mean that someone was at the top of their class.

        If “valedictorian” is synonymous with being at the top of one’s class in the USA, then changing the meaning may not work because, if it was changed to a different method of selection, one could gain an undeserved reputation for academic achievement.

        Just so you know, I am not opposed to recognizing academic achievement at graduation ceremonies, I just don’t think that the person with the best academic achievement should necessarily be the “keynote speaker”. Perhaps if a high school wished to retain the valedictorian title, they could elect someone to give a long speech at the graduation and then have the valedictorian say “On behalf of the class of 20XX, I would like to thank you all for attending our graduation.” at the end of the ceremony.

        • I’ve never heard of a school in the US where “valedictorian” didn’t refer to the top-of-the-class position. The only exception are a few larger schools in my area who called everyone above a certain GPA a “valedictorian” (for self esteem purposes, you know). And yes, the name itself carries weight- my college gave me an automatic $1,000 just for having the word “valedictorian” on my transcript.

          It may have just been to save money on an honorarium for a “real” speaker, but in retrospect I like the way our high school did graduation. The Salutatorian (second in the class) gave an opening address at the ceremony. At a midpoint, we had two elected speakers (basically, the popular kids) who gave a presentation that was more of a walk down memory lane than an inspiring speech. Then, at the end, the valedictorian gave the closing address. Gave some nice balance and worked well.

          • If everybody does it, then it is hard to fight tradition. Of course, if several people get to be valedictorian, then the term has already ceased to have its previous meaning.

            • I mean, to be fair, we DID all make fun of those places, it’s not really common. But yeah, the battle for the techincal meaning of “valedictorian” is lost in the US, it’s pretty solidly tied to class performance.

  4. I was just thinking how much fun it would be…for a school to invite some high-level elected or appointed official to speak at a graduation, with stipulation (as if any such invitee would agree!) that the content (and estimated time-length) of the invitee’s speech would be reviewed and approved beforehand.

    The invite would also stipulate that the speaker’s agreement to participate in the ceremony includes the speaker’s acknowledgment and acceptance that (1) deliberate solicitation of ad-lib interaction or any other kind of impromptu real-time back-and-forth with the audience (or any fraction thereof) at any time during the speech, or (2) any other deviation by the speaker in real time, at any time during the speech, such as failure to deliver the pre-approved content within the allotted time, would result in the speaker’s microphone being turned off, with the expectation that the speaker would immediately, upon the microphone’s power-off, yield control of the microphone to officials duly designated by the school with responsibility for microphone security.

    Of course (here, I laugh)…the microphone-security officials would be accorded full responsibility for microphone security, with responsibility therefor not to be exceeded or superseded by any authority of officials responsible for personal security of any speaker; and furthermore and likewise, the speaker’s personal security would be entirely the personal responsibility of the speaker, and such security officials’ responsibility for a speaker’s personal security would not be exceeded or superseded by any authority of officials responsible for microphone security…(here, I have to defer to the lawyers on what the terms and conditions REALLY would have to say)…

    Responses to the invites would be priceless. Reports of non-responses as well as any and all responses received could be published, to promote the school’s transparency about its diligent planning for graduation ceremonies.

    Or, would all that be unethical, just because of the potential for web-shaming and other possibly inevitable, irreconcilable conflicts? (Imagine a Secret Service agent shooting a locally hired microphone-security official…)

  5. So the superintendent of Joshua schools has issued a #8 or #9 apology in regards to this situation.

    Apparently the valedictorian’s dad has accused the Principal, Mick Cochran, of threatening to ruin his son’s acceptance into the Naval Academy. He alleges that Mr. Cochran implied he would write a letter impugning Mr. Reimer’s (the valedictorian) character in an effort to undermine his entry there.

    True or not, the superintendent issued an ‘apology’ on behalf of the principle that essentially says “we’re sorry you misinterpreted the words that were spoken to you”

    • Of course this whole episode is rounding out to be a miniature ethics train wreck.

      Media outlets report that his microphone was cut off for religious remarks, when it was actually because of comments on the 1st amendment.

      Some articles are now using language and phraseology to make it out that the apology was for cutting off the microphone.

      The apology is flawed, a) if the allegations are false, the apology should not e issued, b) if the allegations are true the apology is crap.

      If the allegations are true, then the principal is blowing things out of proportion.

      I think the dad most likely heard a reductio as absurdum argument from the principal (which the principal shouldn’t have made) and took it literally.

      Along with a the ethics violations committed by the valedictorian himself, yeah… Mini train wreck.

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