Last week, the news emerged that Evan Young, the top student in this year’s Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School’s graduating class, had been denied the opportunity to deliver the traditional valedictorian address because he planned to use it to announce that he’s gay. The incident resulted in some controversy between the Longmont school’s officials and Young, a conflict worsened by the ham-handed way the officials handled it.
Young ended up delivering his speech in full this past Sunday at a fundraiser hosted by Out Boulder, a nonprofit dedicated to LGBTQ rights. In defending its position, Twin Peaks officials cited the “solemnity” of the graduation ceremony and the need to “preserve and protect the mission of the school.” That mission, according to the Twin Peaks website, is to provide students with “the foundations of virtue and character…in an encouraging environment.”
Draw your own conclusions. The LGBTQ community needs as many intelligent and accomplished role models as it can find, especially among teens. And everyone else needs to realize that these folks have the same abilities and ambitions as everyone else—what they still lack in many places across our state and our nation is an equal and accepted voice.
If Evan’s speech can help even one gay young person realize that being gay isn’t some shameful secret and doesn’t prevent you from being your best possible self, he’ll have made an impact far greater than his already considerable academic achievements. That’s why we’re delighted to be able to present his speech here.
*A special thanks to Out Boulder for providing the text
“In the words of one of my heroes, Stephen Colbert, ‘Dreams can change. If we all stuck with our first dream, the world would be overrun with cowboys and princesses.’ Now, I don’t really remember what my first dream was–although I’m pretty sure I’ve never wanted to be a princess–but my dreams have changed many times over the years. However, there are two that I’ve stuck with for almost my entire life: 1) finish high school with perfect grades, and 2) wear a cape. Tonight, I accomplish both. When I was a toddler, I used to watch the show ‘Arthur’ on PBS. In one episode, one of the characters got an A on a test, and I distinctly remember saying to my dad, ‘Daddy, I want to be a straight A student,’ despite having no idea what that actually meant. Well, little Evan, your dream would come true, give or take that B you got in art class in 8th grade, which doesn’t count because art isn’t a real class anyway.
With this being said, I am quite honored be the class va-le-di-vic-tor-ian, a word which–along with “feminism” and “thesaurus”–I haven’t quite figured out how to say correctly. In all seriousness, this distinction truly is an honor. I can confidently say that this moment–standing up here, reluctantly delivering a speech to the school with a green cape fluttering majestically at my back–is the greatest moment of my life so far. But this speech isn’t supposed to be about me. It’s supposed to be about me inspiring you by talking about me. So let’s get inspired.
But first, I have to say thank you to everyone. I know you guys are probably tired of being thanked at this point, and I know thanking people in speeches is super cliche, but it’s a good cliche, like slow-motion or training montages in movies. So you will be thanked, whether you like it or not.
Audience members, thank you so much for sitting through all these speeches that you knew you were going to be bored by. In approximately 6 and a half minutes, your trials and tribulations will be over. If any of you feel like pretending to ‘go to the bathroom’ so you can play with your phone in the hallway–Hi Dad!–, I won’t be offended.
Fellow students, thank you for putting up with me for so many years. As off-putting and sarcastic I was at times, you were always so nice to me. I love you guys, and while we’re probably going to make new friends wherever we go, they won’t be you, and that just makes me sad. In fact, I almost cried the other day at the thought of leaving you. Almost, but not quite. My manliness is still intact.
And I would like to thank the teachers for all the wonderful things they’ve taught me, although frankly I’ve already forgotten most of it. I had a bad habit of making stupid comments during class, and I can’t thank you guys enough for putting up with me. As often as I complained about your homework assignments or your class behind your back, I never complained about you. You were just too awesome for that.
I’d like to thank my family for all their encouragement and support, and for forcing me to do my college essays despite much whining and procrastination on my part. I’d especially like to thank my mother and my brother, Troy Young, for hiding candy in their rooms. Those gumdrops and lollipops got me through so many boring classes.
And of course, where would we be without the Internet, the greatest invention since the wheel. In fact, I dare say the Internet is better than the wheel because as I’m sure you visitors from out-of-state can testify, wheels are pretty useless unless you have Google Maps to tell you where to go. Whether you’re scrolling through Facebook instead of working, or frantically reading through Sparknotes in the 5 minutes before English class because you didn’t do the reading last night (come on, you know you’ve all been there), you just can’t thank the Internet enough.
And finally, I’d like to thank the Coca Cola Company and all its subsidiaries, which have not only stood as unshakable icons of American consumerism, but have also provided mankind with a delicious source of caffeine for so many years. I’d like to say this speech is sponsored by them, but it’s not. They didn’t give me any money. Unlike Hillary Clinton, I don’t make millions of dollars a year for flapping my lips.
And now we arrive at the heart of the speech, the inspirational and meaningful part. For those of you who have been sufficiently inspired, or who have already discovered the meaning of their existence, feel free to play on your phone. Just remember to laugh every once in a while so I feel like I’m being funny. But for the rest of us, we’re going in.
So, since we are never going to see each other again–unless of course you care to hop over to Sprouts at some point this Summer–I thought I should reveal several of my deepest, darkest secrets.
First, I dislike doing homework. Seriously, I hate it. No me la gusta. It’s not just that it’s boring: that’s a given. It’s just that most of the time, it doesn’t feel like it’s necessary or helpful. The line between homework and busywork is indeed a blurry one because most of the time, they’re pretty much the same thing. Now, let me qualify this. Not all homework is bad. Sometimes, it’s beneficial. But like the Heimlich Maneuver, you should only do it when it’s totally necessary. Otherwise, you’re just going to make children throw up for no reason. Homework is OK when it’s intended to reinforce things learned in class or prepare students for the next lesson. It’s not OK when it’s sole purpose is to have the bleak, dreary hours of school take up even more of a student’s day. As a general rule, homework should only take up, say, 12 hours a week. After that, it’s not necessary. In fact, homework is kinda like those 18-month wall calendars you see at the bookstore. Sure, the first 12 months are helpful, but what am I supposed to do with the last 6? They don’t make calendars that start in July, so by July of next year, I’ll just have to put up a new calendar that starts in January. But why couldn’t I have just used that calendar? Why’d I have to pay for the additional 6 months? . . . Sorry, I totally forget where I was going with this. Anyway, students: if you’re stressed out and don’t want to do your homework every once in a while, don’t feel like you have to. Relax. Play on the Internet. Drink some Coca-Cola. Again, no sponsorship.
Second, I never took notes in class. And I only paid just enough attention to crack a joke every once in a while, but not much more. I usually was busy doing other things, like twirling pens or working on homework that was due in the following class period. And I also liked to procrastinate on my work, seldom finishing an assignment more than a day before it was due. One time, I finished an English essay at 7 AM in the morning on the due date after pulling an all-nighter. And somehow I still got a 100% on it. I have no idea how I got straight A’s in high school, as I wasn’t the most serious student.
And I have so many more secrets to reveal. Mr. Bekins, in AP US History, I wrote down all the answers to the tests in my textbook, so one lucky student this year didn’t actually have to read any of the chapters. Mrs. Whitmer, in AP Euro, I disliked doing outlines so much that I underlined important passages in the textbook, and just copied them down on a sheet of paper when I got around to it, but was too lazy to erase the marks I made in the book before I returned it. Mrs. Gilmore, I only read about halfway through “Crime and Punishment” before switching to Sparknotes for the remainder of the book. And I also stole a lot of your Jolly Ranchers. Mrs. Freeman, I hardly ever sang in choir, and when I did, I mostly sang with the ladies because I thought it was funny. And Troy, one time I stole your….Oh wait, you’re my brother. I probably shouldn’t tell you anything.
Now let me tell you a big secret, my second biggest one in fact. I once asked a girl on a date, and you guessed it: I’m not allowed to tell you. Earlier in the year, I remember thinking to myself, ‘I’m not supposed to be telling you this story,’ and after that, I gradually began to notice how adorable she was. About a month ago, I typed into her calculator, ‘I have a crush on you. Will you please be my 1st girlfriend? –Evan.’ And she said no. Thoroughly embarrassed, I wrote her a letter. And I will now read you this letter.
My Dear Friend,
I am sorry I asked you to be my girlfriend. I did not intend to startle or demean you in any way. It’s just that I’ve always seen you as more than a friend on account of the hours of classes we’ve had together, and the amount of time we’ve known each other. I just wanted to get to know you even better, and be around you more, in these last few months we get to spend together before we part ways for the remainder of our lives. I think you are smart, friendly, and adorable, and you are the only girl I’ve ever had a crush on. I want you to be my girlfriend because I genuinely adore you, but I perfectly understand if you do not feel the same way about me. We will still always be friends.
On a more serious note, there is something I would like to reveal to you. You may have already suspected this, but I hope this does not change your opinion of me: I am gay. I’ve been attracted to men for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never had a girlfriend before because I prefer members of my own sex. But I thought that, if ever in my life I am to refer to someone as my girlfriend, it may as well be the best friend I’ve ever had.
And that’s my biggest secret of all: I’m gay. I understand this might be offensive to some people, but it’s who I am. And whether you’ve always suspected this, or this is a total shock to you, now you know. When I was writing this speech, I was endlessly debating with myself whether I should reveal this, on account of how divisive an issue this is and how homosexuals tend to be stereotyped, and I thought that, if I did, I should repeatedly apologize and beg you guys not to think any differently of me.
But then I realized: I don’t have to. I shouldn’t have to. If there’s one thing I learned at this school, it’s that we can still be friends even if we profoundly disagree with each other. And sure: there’s only like 30 of us, so it’s not like we had much of a choice, but at times, it took a serious effort to put up with one another. We disagreed and argued about many things: about gun control, the minimum wage, politics, movies, books, math problems, who would speak at our graduation, and almost everything. But we learned to respect everyone else, no matter how wrong we thought they were, no matter how annoying they were, no matter how boring their speeches were, and no matter what weird snacks they brought to history class, from coffee creamer to coconuts.
And I want everyone here to do the same. So before you leave, I have one final request for you: hug someone. That’s right, hug someone. Students, hug a teacher. Democrats, hug a Republican. People who own a gun, hug one of those darn liberals who wants to snatch it out of your cold, dead fingers, Trekkies, hug someone who likes Star Wars more. Mel Gibson, hug a Jew. Conservative Christians, hug an agnostic. Hug a gay person while you’re at it, too. (Actually, please don’t because I don’t want to have to hug every person here, but you get the point).
And finally, we’re at the part you’ve been waiting for: the end of the speech. This is the part where, in the words of a sappy love letter, “we part ways for the remainder of our lives.” As these are literally the last words most of you will ever hear from me, I’ll avoid saying anything stupid by keeping it short and simple: Goodbye, everyone. I’ll miss you. And whatever happens to us and wherever we go, my only hope is that ‘We’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when….'”
—Evan Young, Twin Peaks Charter Academy Valedictorian, Class of 2015