Give people a taste of power, no matter how minor or illusionary, and things will inevitably turn pretty wacky. The combustible mixture of a self-inflated sense of importance and a stunning lack of perspective leads some folks to strap on the Crazy Hat, completely unaware they live in the asylum and do not run it. They need to be reminded a comfortable room with a pretty view of the valley patiently awaits them in the north wing. Maybe this wee bit of reassurance would chill them out.

Kaitlin Nootbaar is the 2012 Valedictorian of Prague High School in rural Oklahoma. She graduated with a perfect 4.0 GPA and has been awarded a full scholarship to study biology at Southwestern Oklahoma State University. But she will not be bringing her high school diploma to college because she does not have it. Oh it was not eaten by the dog or carelessly misplaced. It sits on the desk of one David Smith, the principal of Prague High, and like a rabid animal he will not let go. The bubble-headed Mr. Smith is holding tight until Kaitlin sends him a written apology. Her sin? When delivering her pre-approved graduation speech she mistakenly said the word “hell” instead of “heck.” Now she did not say, “David Smith can go to hell,” although among the available options that sounds like a winner. Instead she was discussing her thoughts about what she wants to do with her life. “How the hell (heck!) should I know? I’ve changed my mind so many times,” she told the graduation crowd. Her refreshing honesty was met with laughter and applause by everyone except, it seems, David Smith. His bonehead decision is supported by School Superintendent Rick Martin who called it “appropriate.” Maybe Martin thinks it appropriate, but Kaitlin has no plans to apologize for a slip of the tongue in the excitement of the moment. She told her dad, “If I write them a letter it’s not going to be a nice letter. It’s not going to be an apology.” Of course there is no irony Prague High School’s mascot is a winking devil complete with pointed tail and a pitchfork. None whatsoever.

Shift to Cincinnati, Ohio this past June. When Anthony Cornist’s name was announced at his graduation ceremony family, friends and teachers responded with a loud and extended cheer. Too loud and extended for Mt. Healthy High School’s omnipresent principal of righteousness, Marlon Styles. This beacon of justice, entrusted to guide teens through four very confusing years, felt Anthony’s contingent of well-wishers went overboard. So much so that she wrote a letter telling Anthony his diploma was being withheld as a result. She was not seeking a written apology. Rather it would take 20 hours of community service, performed by Anthony, his family or some combination thereof, to receive his diploma. School Superintendant Lori Handler backed this moronic decision with the comment, “In years past, we have had students whose families got over-exuberant and the child behind them’s name could not be heard when they were called.” Okay, the spoken word does not always translate well when written, but really? The school later relented and awarded Anthony his diploma. Apparently they had an epiphany when faced with the legal ramifications of denying a student a legitimate diploma for something completely out of his control which he neither did nor encouraged.

Power realms exist everywhere and by comparison the ones in high schools are small potatoes. Exerting power over students is something school administrators have done forever. That is not going to, nor should it, change. However, exerting power over students who are no longer your students, who are only a symbolic gesture from getting on with their lives, is fruitless, dumb and petty. Life constantly teaches us lessons about recognizing and respecting personal limits. If only David Smith and Marlon Styles had been paying attention the countless times that lesson was taught to them.

  1. kayjai says:

    Ugh…some people get on a high horse and refuse to see anything around them. Those kids did nothing wrong…the ridiculousness (?) of these so called ‘educators’ is unbelievable. I have a daughter graduating this year..maybe I should give her some tips if she gets to be valedictorian. Speech writing by KJ…there would be more than just the word ‘hell’ in it! Ugh…


  2. Well, living up to the mascot takes a little effort I suppose. Yikes!


  3. rangewriter says:

    What an incredible pair of stories. I keep thinking…Really?


  4. surroundedbyimbeciles says:

    My high school was called the Blue Devils. I never could figure out how that happened in the Bible Belt.


  5. Seriously? The devil is their mascot? Oh, geez, give me a break!


  6. MysteryCoach says:

    Utter morons. BUT She’s still graduated anyway, does she really need that piece of paper? No…really, I mean no one asks for that down the line anyway. It’s been YEEEARS since someone asked me for mine 🙂 heh… ain’t I a stinker?


  7. This kind of stuff always makes my blood boil. You also see it in hospital settings, sometimes with nurses. It’s that little power tripping, authority they have that turns them into scary, unreasonable illogical, ignorant monsters. That bunch frightens me.


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