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May 25, 2005: ACLU-TN Press Release: Accompanied by an ACLU-TN Attorney, Eagleville School Valedictorian Receives His Diploma

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Contact: Melody Fowler-Green, Staff Attorney,
ACLU of Tennessee, 615-320-7142

Accompanied by an ACLU-TN Attorney,
Eagleville School Valedictorian Receives His Diploma

EAGLEVILLE – American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) announced today that Eagleville School Valedictorian Abe Stoklasa, accompanied by his mother, Gale, and ACLU-TN Staff Attorney Melody Fowler-Green, received his diploma from school officials this morning without further controversy.

School administrators withheld Stoklasa’s diploma at the graduation ceremony last Friday after Stoklasa defied orders to edit his speech. A draft of his speech submitted for prior approval included jokes that the administration saw as critical of the school. One line said: “You have given us the minimum required attention and education that is needed to master any station at any McDonald’s anywhere.” This was immediately followed by: “Of course, I am only kidding. Eagleville is a fine institute of higher learning, with a superb faculty and staff.” Eagleville Principal Rhonda Holton asked him to remove lines to which the administration objected.

Stoklasa believed his free speech rights were being violated and delivered his speech as initially proposed. The school shut down the sound system so that his remarks could not be heard and did not give him his diploma. When he didn’t receive his diploma along with the other graduates, Stoklasa and his mother sought advice from ACLU-TN.

I’m very glad to have my diploma. I worked hard for it and earned it. I don’t think it’s right to deny me that just for exercising my constitutional rights,” said Stoklasa. “Ironically, in their attempt to censor me, my message got out to a bigger audience.”

Fowler-Green expressed concern about the censorship: “Our educational system aims to teach students critical thinking. Abe’s speech was thoughtful and respectful, while displaying a playful sense of critical analysis that I hope would make a school proud. Eagleville School should be very proud for producing a student who will stand up for himself and his rights the way Abe has.”

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