There are a few near-universal tenets of high school: early morning wake-ups, that one couple who will probably end up married, a scary conditioning coach and student government. Most student government members will tell you that the reality is often different from what appears on television: student governments frequently lack agency or the ability to do much beyond decorate adult-organized events. On Friday, a high school valedictorian and class president from Pennsylvania exposed just that.
Peter Butera, who graduated at the top of his class and was elected class president for all four years of high school, was invited by his school’s administration to give the student commencement address at Wyoming Area High School’s graduation on June 12. After thanking his family and specific teachers and administrators, he turned to the main purpose of his speech, calling out the lack of real leadership found in his student leadership positions:
...the title of Class President could more accurately be Class Party Planner, and Student Council's main obligation is to paint signs every week...a lack of real student government and the authoritative nature that a few administrators and school board members have prevents students from developing as true leaders. - Peter Butera, via Facebook transcript
Before he could finish his speech, however, Butera's microphone was turned off, at least partially proving his point. As the graduates yelled for him to continue, the principal ushered the 18-year-old off the stage. Butera then received a standing ovation from his fellow graduates.
"I thought it was well said and necessary. Everything he spoke of in his speech was accurate, and [when]...I heard him say it at graduation, my jaw dropped," said Emily Menta, a class officer from Wyoming Area's Class of 2016 and a current student at Temple University. "I'm so glad Peter said what he did."
In the days afterward, Butera's classmates rallied around him, taking to Twitter and Facebook to express their support. By the following Wednesday, a video of his speech had reached the front page of Reddit, garnering more than 36,000 up-votes. That night, he was invited to appear on Jimmy Kimmel Live to finish his speech.
Butera's own Tweet about the speech has garnered more than 2,000 retweets and 4,800 likes.
It's unclear what effect Butera's speech will have on how students are given a voice at Wyoming Area High School; however, it has provoked a national conversation about how students are allowed to be leaders in an educational setting, and how administrators should assist in that.
Emily Menta is hopeful, saying, "I think the administration will start taking the students seriously. I mean, look at what happened: Peter is a student, and he shined the light on the situation going on within our secondary center. The media is taking him seriously, and I think the administration will hopefully take students in the future seriously, too...It's a step in the right direction, and I'm excited to see the improvements in the future if they take his word."
Butera posted the full transcript of his speech, including the paragraph he was prevented from reading, on his Facebook page. Peter Butera will be a member of the Class of 2021 at Villanova University in the fall, according to his Twitter bio.
Lead Image Credit: Wyoming Area School District IT Department via UStream