Who is Bryce Dershem? NJ valedictorian cut off by principal for speech on queer identity

Principal Robert Tull walked on stage and cut Bryce Dershem's mic mid-speech as the student began talking about queerness and being in therapy

                            Who is Bryce Dershem? NJ valedictorian cut off by principal for speech on queer identity
Bryce Dershem, valedictorian of Eastern Regional High School, New Jersey had his mic cut by principal Robert Tull on graduation day (Bryce Dershem/Instagram)

Bryce Dershem, a fresh graduate from Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, New Jersey had his valedictorian speech censored by school principal Robert Tull. The incident happened on June 17 and the video from the event has now gone viral over the Internet. Tull was seen walking on stage and taking off with the mic and Dershem's notes after the student began to speak about his queer identity. 

The LGBTQ community is still fighting for acceptance across the globe and cases of harassment against them has been an indelible mark on the fabric of society. Last month Riley Loudermilk and Annie Wise, a lesbian couple from an Ohio school faced a lot of backlash after they were elected prom king and queen. They had to be at the receiving end of comments like, "I think tradition stands for a queen that has a vagina, a king that has a penis and testicles. Period. That's the way it should stand. that is the way God has intended it to be," they added. Talking about speech censoring, valedictorian Elizabeth Turner from Michigan was asked to keep Jesus Christ's mentions out of her speech.

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Who is Bryce Dershem?

Eastern Regional High School's valedictorian, Bryce Dershem was stopped in his tracks by his principal for reading out an unapproved speech. Tull ordered him to read the original speech that had been approved after he pulled the plug on the mic and walked away with Dershem's notes. However, nothing seemed to stop Dershem who was clad in a rainbow flag robe and he continued to deliver his speech from memory instead, reveals a video uploaded by his father Michael on YouTube. 

Dershem will be attending Tufts University this fall. Speaking about what occurred at the graduation ceremony, he told an outlet that his speech was taken away by Tull and "crumpled it up into a ball in front of me," as is visible in the video his father shared to his YouTube channel. The student also said his principal pointed to a preapproved speech, " “they had essentially written for me and said, 'You read this or nothing else.’" Dershem said he was "about to cry" after being interrupted by Tull. Dershem also said he was asked to remove all references to "queerness" and mental health issues from his speech two days before the ceremony. 


“They said that if I used any sort of discussions on LGBTQ matters, that I would just exclude people. But that wasn’t really my message at all, and I don’t think it really is exclusionary to say that one is queer," Dershem said. He had come prepared with his seven-minute-long speech memorized and resumed his speech with "as I was saying" after composing himself. "Believe in yourself, class of 2021," Dershem said as he finished the speech. "Each and every one of you is enough. Each and every one of you can and will change this world."

Eastern Camden County Regional School District superintendent Robert Cloutier has denied accusations saying the school district didn't ask any students to exclude their "personal identity" from their speeches. “Every year, all student speakers are assisted in shaping the speech, and all student speeches — which are agreed upon and approved in advance — are kept in the binder on the podium for the principal to conduct the graduation ceremony,” Cloutier said in a statement. He also addressed Dershem's speech saying the district “focused on social-emotional wellness for the year’s reopening plan” and is “committed to the diversity and inclusion initiatives” of the New Jersey Department of Education.

Dershem has called Cloutier's statement disingenuous saying that the school specifically asked him to not include his gay identity in the speech. Dershem has been in therapy for an eating disorder and he was asked to keep that aspect out of the speech as well. “If that were true, would they have tried to censor me and play it off as a mic change?” Dershem said. “If that were true, [Tull] wouldn’t have crumpled a speech I worked months on … in front of my face in front of an audience of 2,000 people.” Cloutier didn't comment on why Tull cut Dershem's mic.  

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