The Woodward News

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August 21, 2012

Diploma withheld from valedictorian who used 'hell' in speech

PRAGUE, Okla. — High school valdictorian Kaitlin Nootbaar says she doesn't consider the context in which she used the word "hell" in her commencement speech inappropriate or even impolite.

Thus, her father said Monday, she has no intention of apologizing to school officials for uttering it even though they won't issue her a diploma until she does

David Nootbaar said his daughter finished at the top of her class at Prague High School and officials have no right to withhold her graduation certificate just because they disagreed with the choice of one word.

"She earned that diploma," he told KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City. "She got straight A's and had a 4.0 the whole way through."

Apparently inspired by the movie "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse," Kaitlin told her classmates that at one point she wanted to be a nurse, then a veterinarian but as she approached graduation and people asked her what she wanted to do, she'd reply: "How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times."

The line drew a laugh from her classmates and others in attendance. School officials said her written remarks shown to them ahead of time used the word "heck."

Yet, her father said, nothing was mentioned about withholding her diploma at the graduation ceremony in May, but when Kaitlin went to pick it up recently at the school she was advised she had to write an apology for using the word "hell" before it would be turned over to her.

Schools Superintendent Rick Martin said in a statement that while Kaitlin is an outstanding student she used an inappropriate word and the request for an apology is reasonable.

Her father disagreed, saying Kaitlin didn't do anything wrong and, therefore, an apology would be insincere. He said she will start classes at Southwestern Oklahoma State University next month on a full scholarship despite the diploma flap.

Ironically, the Prague High School athletic teams are known as the "Red Devils" and the school's mascot dresses to fit the theme. But no one suggested this had anything to do with Kaitlin's choice of words.

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