Valedictorian Faces Arrest for Giving Speech at Graduation
Chris Linzy, the valedictorian at Nashville area Gallatin High School, faces criminal charges for trying to speak at his graduation ceremony.
Saying graduation is “a very dignified and special program,” the Gallatin High School principal Tuesday swore out a warrant against a student who disrupted Friday’s ceremony and had him charged with disorderly conduct.
Graduate Chris Linzy, the senior class valedictorian, grabbed a microphone and tried to deliver a speech he prepared. He got a few sentences out before the microphone was cut off and he was told to return to his seat. Immediately after the ceremony, he said, he was reprimanded by school officials. School officials also may withhold Linzy’s diploma, as punishment for the disruption. Now, he also faces the misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, which carries a maximum penalty of 30 days in jail and a $50 fine.
“This is a very dignified and special program….,” Gallatin High Principal Rufus Lassiter said. “It was the first time we’ve ever had a ceremony interrupted like that.” Before the graduation, all those in attendance — audience members and participating students included — were warned against interrupting the program, Lassiter said. At GHS, administrators ask parents and other guests to remain quiet while graduates’ names are read aloud. “We announce that anybody who disrupts the ceremony will be cited for disorderly conduct,” the principal said.
At Gallatin High, the student body president, not the valedictorian, speaks at graduation. Chris Linzy said he wanted to speak, in part, to challenge that policy. “I grabbed the microphone that the teacher was using, walked up onstage, and gave my speech,” said Chris Linzy, who was frustrated he wouldn’t he allowed to address his peers. “I decided to do it that day. I needed to do something.”
But the principal said the valedictorian’s “really disruptive” behavior at Friday’s ceremony made him feel sorry for the other students who were graduating. “Those 270 get no publicity whatsoever. Chris wanted to draw attention to himself. He wanted to be the highlight of the hour. … He’s getting all the publicity. “It’s the good kids that never get recognized. That’s what bothers me. We’ve got hundreds of kids like that. The good kids that wanted to do right and obey the rules, they’re being left out.”
I actually agree with the principal that Linzy’s behavior was inappropriate and an attempt to draw attention to himself. While it’s an odd policy to have the student body president give the speech rather than the valedictorian (they were one and the same in my class), there’s certainly no inherent right for the kid with the best grades to address the crowd.
Still, criminal charges and withholding of a diploma seem well beyond the scope of the offense.