OTHELLO — Officials with the Othello School District are emphatic that they were not censoring Othello High School valedictorian Andrew Chen’s speech at last Saturday.
“We’ve actually been working with the student (on the speech) for more than a month,” said Chris Hurst, superintendent of the Othello School District. “He rewrote the entire speech this weekend, on fear, and we approved it.”
Hurst said Chen finished the approved speech, an intense and sometimes dark reflection on fear and its power to both paralyze and inspire, and began launching into a second speech that had not been approved.
“We knew he was going off his message,” Hurst said.
The superintendent added that he gave OHS Principal Alejandro Vergara a “head nod” instructing him to stop Chen.
Chen’s speech had gone through four drafts, Hurst said, and some parts of it “seemed like a cry for help.” As he was drafting the speech, Hurst said he wanted Chen to remember his audience, to focus and tailor his speech for those who would attend the graduation ceremony.
“We spoke with the student about the content of the speech,” Hurst added. “We do not want to censor students’ speech.”
Chen and his family have said they would “prefer not to talk to any reporters,” Hurst added.
However, the superintendent also wanted to make it clear that Chen himself was not in any trouble.
“We just wanted to clarify that he was finished with his approved speech, and he was actually going into a non-approved speech,” Hurst said.