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'Not Your Therapy Session': NJ High School Valedictorian Cut Off During LGBTQ Graduation Speech

Bryce Dersham was approximately one minute into the speech at Eastern Regional High School's 55th Commencement Ceremony when he began discussing mental health struggles after coming out as queer.
Bryce Dersham was approximately one minute into the speech at Eastern Regional High School's 55th Commencement Ceremony when he began discussing mental health struggles after coming out as queer. Video Credit: Michael Dershem

The valedictorian of a New Jersey high school was cut off by a school administrator during his speech during the graduation ceremony while discussing his LGBTQ identity.

Eastern Regional High School's Bryce Dersham says his graduation speech was cut short when he began discussing LGBTQ and mental health struggles -- things that he was told he was not allowed to include in his speech.

Video shows the principal then stepping behind Dershem on the podium -- then suddenly, Dershem's mic was silenced.

A gay pride flag draped over Dersham's shoulders, the audience cheers in his support, hoping he will be allowed to continue.

Dersham told NBC Philadelphia that the principal crumbled his speech and then pointed to the one he had written for him. The student was told to "say that and nothing else."

The mic goes back on and Dershem continues -- from memory.

High school principal Dr. Robert M. Tull did not respond to Daily Voice's request for comment Saturday morning.

High school officials told NBC News that the principal guides students through the speech-writing process, and each one is pre-approved before the graduation ceremony.

"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," Eastern Camden County Regional Schools Superintendent Robert Clautier said.

School officials apparently told Dershem during this process that his speech was not a "therapy session" and he was instructed to remove all aspects of LGBTQ and mental health struggles, according to NBC News.

YouTube comments in Dershem's support came flooding in.

"It is distressing that Dr. Robert Tull, although highly educated, showed that there is a wide disparity in being 'smart,'" one person said. 

"With today's Supreme Court decision regarding Freedom of Speech in schools, I would hope that you, as his Father, choose to litigate this embarrassing display of non-inclusion."

"How ironic that an authority figure tried to silence a speech about refusing to struggle in silence! Good for you for carrying on," another added.

"A powerful, vulnerable speech. Well done, Bryce," someone elese said.

"You are a remarkable young man that will do great things in the future. Your resolve in the face of this censorship is remarkable and a beautiful example for your class and anyone that watches this video."

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