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Education

Richardson ISD Is Afraid of Its Smartest Students

The district this year won't let its valedictorian address the student body from a live mic.
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Lake Highlands High valedictorian Sara Shelton and principal Kerri Jones

Last year Lake Highlands High’s valedictorian, Paxton Smith, went viral by delivering an unapproved speech at graduation. She spoke forcefully about a woman’s right to have control over her own body, and she decried the restrictive abortion bill that Gov. Greg Abbott had just signed into law. We posted a video of her speech on FrontBurner. It now has more than half a million views on YouTube, and Smith’s speech made headlines from the New York Times to the BBC.

So that happened.

This year Richardson ISD decided to try something different. Rather than let the LHH valedictorian deliver a live address, the district is forcing her to pre-record it. Sara Shelton told the Lake Highlands Advocate: “I’ve been thinking since elementary school that I might get to speak at graduation, and it’s just sad. I’ve been waiting years to speak—it’s such a cool thing. I even asked if I could go up to the podium [live] and say thank you. They said no. Even our class vice president is introducing Ms. Jones, our principal, and they are making her pre-record it.”

What a cowardly decision by the district.

This move sends a clear message that the district is afraid of one of its smartest, hardest-working, most accomplished student. And what, exactly, might they fear? That one of the brightest young people in our community might say something that not everyone agrees with? I don’t know this young woman’s views. Maybe she thinks Biden stole the election and Elon Musk should be the king of Texas after the state secedes from the union. Or maybe she thinks Gov. Abbott isn’t serving Texans well when he says school shootings are a mental health issue, not a gun control issue, while Texas ranks last in the country in access to mental health care and he himself in April cut $211 million from the department that oversees the state’s mental health programs.

I don’t know. But I do know that Shelton earned the privilege of speaking her mind at graduation. As long as she doesn’t use vulgar language or call for violence, she should be able to address her classmates on a live mic.

Read that Advocate story. You can tell how thoughtful and mature she is. My guess: this final lesson from Richardson ISD won’t be lost on Sara Shelton.

UPDATE (5/31/22) A friend of mine has a kid who graduated from LHH. At that kid’s graduation party over the weekend, I got to meet Sara Shelton. I can confirm that she is a wonderful person and a credit to her school. A real shame that the district was so scared of her.

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Tim Rogers

Tim Rogers

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Tim is the editor of D Magazine, where he has worked since 2001. He won a National Magazine Award in…

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