Lulabel Seitz had a high school GPA of over 4.0. She was accepted to Stanford University, one of the most prestigious colleges on the West Coast. She was the first in her family to graduate from high school. Lulabel was named the Valedictorian of Petaluma High School and was invited to give a commencement speech.
But about four minutes into her speech at the school’s graduation ceremony, her microphone was shut off.
Seitz was just about to move into the part of her speech that touched on sexual assault allegations at the school. She didn’t name anyone in particular, according to a video she later uploaded onto YouTube. But the school administrators had to cut her off at the moment she deviated from the script that had bee previously approved.
David Stirrat, the principal of the public high school, told The Washington Post that students had submitted their speeches for approval, then practiced with a panel. The students had been warned that if they strayed from the script, the microphone could be cut off, he said.
Seitz began her speech describing the challenges that both she and the rest of the students had overcome to make it to their graduation. She was the granddaughter of immigrants from the Philippines and the daughter of a single mother who did not graduate from high school.
“I didn’t think I’d be standing here as your valedictorian,” she said. “But the reason I share this story with you is not because I think it’s unique. In fact quite the opposite. We have all achieved unlikely dreams.”
The valedictorian noted that the school had come through a teacher’s strike and the county had triumphed over fires that claimed some of the student’s homes.
But the next part of her speech was never heard at the graduation. She began it by saying that “the class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a new generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream and to create change. Which is why even when some people on this campus, those same people — ”
The video of the event reveals the awkward silence that happened when the mic was cut off. Some students finally stood up and clapped. They they began to chant: “Let he speak!”
According to the speech should would later read and post to YouTube, Seitz planned to say: “And even learning on a campus in which some people defend perpetrators of sexual assault and silence their victims, we didn’t let that drag us down. The class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a new generation but we are not too young to speak up, to dream, and to create change.”
“The Petaluma High School administration infringed on my freedom of speech, and prevented a whole graduating class from having their message delivered,” she wrote on YouTube. “For weeks, they have threatened me against ‘speaking against them’ in my speech. Sometimes we know what’s right and have to do it.”
Seitz was apparently frustrated by what she believed was a lack of action from the school administration with a claim of sexual misconduct.
Stirrat defended the school’s position by saying that students were welcome to include potentially controversial material in their speeches.
“In Lulabel’s case, her approved speech didn’t include any reference to an assault,” he said. “We certainly would have considered such an addition, provided no individuals were named or defamed.”
Dave Rose, an assistant superintendent, told the Press Democrat that he believed turning the mic off was legal.
“If the school is providing the forum, then the school has the ability to have some control over the message,” Rose said.