A story on NBC’s Today Show yesterday highlighted an area in which I believe so many of us are falling down – it’s as if we’ve forgotten that it’s our job, our responsibility, to teach respect, honor and integrity to our kids.
Here’s the story, an Oklahoma high school valedictorian, Kaitlin Nootbar, submitted her written graduation speech to her principal for approval. In the speech she had this line, “They’re gonna ask us what we’re gonna be and we’re gonna say, who the heck knows”. The problem is she was pretty sure she was going to say “Who the hell knows” (a line from the Twilight movie, Eclipse). She said in the Today Show interview that she discussed this with her partner with whom she wrote the speech, and then again with classmates right before giving the speech, all encouraging her to stray from the written, and approved, line. So she did, and now the principal is holding her diploma certificate until she apologizes ~ a reasonable request.
In the Today Show piece Kaitlin says she won’t apologize; she says she’s not sorry and that she doesn’t really need her diploma anyway. Matt Lauer turns to her father at one point and says that he (Matt) is a parent and was wondering what he would do; would he want her to give in to the school, or would he want to teach his child the lesson of standing his or her own ground. (Personally, I don’t think it’s either of those lessons) He then asks the father how he feels. The father said he wanted her to stand her ground, that he is a veteran, she has freedom of speech and why should she “bow down to this man”, and give her rights away.
Oh my goodness. “Bow down to this man”, really? How about a lesson that goes like this, “You were under the authority of the school, you purposely used a word in a commencement speech you knew you shouldn’t use, but you did. You knew this would cause a problem, so now, show some level of respect, go apologize and move on with your life.”
Instead she gets to fly to New York City and be highlighted on a national news program where many people applaud her for “standing her ground”. The ground that supports her decision to defy the authority over her, because she wanted to swear at a commencement ceremony. No wonder our kids believe the world revolves around them.
Kaitlin says the lesson from this whole thing is to “always stand your ground…that whatever is in your heart you should stand up for it…” (Unless you’re the principal, I guess she doesn’t believe he should stand his ground.) NBC conducted a poll and 88% of respondents said she should not apologize, 12% said she should. Really, a poll was conducted for this?! But the results are revealing.
Some will say this a freedom of speech issue, I believe it’s a character and lack of self-discipline issue. When we glamorize and jump to the defense of the kids in situations like this, we just cannot be surprised when they function as if they are the center of the universe, or when they have a hard time with authority in their lives, or when they come to job interviews and ask questions like “How long can I be on the internet before I get in trouble” (This question was actually asked by a college student during an interview at my husband’s company).
There is such an emphasis in our culture about doing what you want, when you want, no matter what, and then defending it. I just believe we should also be emphasizing building integrity and honor, within our kids. What do you think?
You can see the interview here.