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.

FILED UNDER: Education, Law and the Courts
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    I wonder if this situation can be applied to the graduation cerimony recently attended by John McCain, and if so, what can be learned from the comparison?

  2. John Burgess says:

    “Vale” = “Farewell”
    “Dictere” = “To Speak/Say”
    “-orian” = “One who does something”
    Vale + Dict + Orian = “One who says farewell”

    The kid’s title says that his role is to say farewell on behalf of his peers. That’s certainly the normal understanding of the role of a valedictorian. Strikes me that the principal needs a little refresher in his Latin basics.

    Yeah, the kid was out of line. But the school was offering false labeling!

  3. James Joyner says:

    John: Good point! Maybe they should just relabel him “the kid with the best GPA.”

  4. just me says:

    The high school I attended always had the Senior Class president do the address. Not sure how unusual it is, but it isn’t uncommon.

    I think the behavior was out of line, but I don’t think it warrants an arrest.

  5. floyd says:

    james; although i agree with your conclusion,there is something else at work here. rufus is jealous of chris, as frustrated educators often are of the smarter students.otherwise , “sit down and shut-up” would have been enough to show his superior position.

  6. James Joyner says:

    floyd: Could be. Most school principals, sadly, seem to be morons. Be Chris is a jackass.

  7. DWPittelli says:

    At my school (Middlesex, Concord MA), the Senior Class President and the graduation speaker were self-nominated and each elected by the Seniors, and generally were not the same person, and neither was generally the person with the best GPA. I think the typical “person with the best GPA makes the speech” rule is less apt to get a person good at public speaking or with something interesting to say. I had the class’s best GPA, but did not run for Valedictorian, due to some combination of disgust at the school’s plan to OK (i.e., potentially censor) the speech, and a general dislike of public speaking.