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In a few days time I will be giving a valedictorian speech at my high school graduation. The teachers in charge asked me to show them my speech so I did. Just now a very different speech was sent to me with a title "amended speech". The whole speech is completely different from mine except a few paraphrased lines.

I'm incredibly upset with this change as the original speech had a rebel undertone to it. My old speech was directed to my classmates and I stated that they shouldn't spend too much time on things that they were not happy doing, including studies. I challenged them to find ways to be lazy on studies and still keep their grades up.

The new speech catered to everyone more equally but was also very short. In my opinion it served no purpose as it was extremely general. (Path here wasn't easy, we'll be going to universities around the world, thank you everyone, etc.)

If I can't change the speech I'm not going to give the speech.

I am close to the teachers in charge and I really don't want to trouble them. I have no idea about their intentions on this change. I'm perfectly fine to alter my speech or discuss about it but there are circumstances.

My graduation is just a few days away and I assume that the teachers are very busy on it. That's what usually happens in our (small international) school, and that's why I would try my best not to talk to the teachers. There are a few characters in this situation:

Miss A, who messages the students and informs them about changes.

Miss B, who I heard from Miss A, edited my speech.

Principal, who I have no idea about and never met before. (He/she was new.)

So I communicated only with Miss A through Facebook chat. She told me that Miss B will check and edit my speech. I thought she meant grammar or other small things until today. When I asked her what's wrong about my speech she said that it shouldn't focus mainly on students, as there are parents and teachers there. She also adds that "the principal wants in to be in this way."

How can I approach them about discussing the edits, and in the worst case, explain that I will not give the new speech?

  • 3
    Do you understand why an educational institution would not want you to present a speech telling them to not continue an education and instead just do what is fun? – Catija Dec 5 '17 at 15:02
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    @Catija yes I do. That was a big concern when writing my speech. The idea is something like "spend time proportionally to things that you enjoy doing". I even mentioned that spending a lot of time on things don't like is the reason they hate school. – See Jian Shin Dec 5 '17 at 15:05
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    For anyone who is still here, is it okay if I share how I dealt with it in the end here? The graduation is now over and I'm in a better mood already. – See Jian Shin Dec 12 '17 at 3:43
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    @SeeJianShin If you used a different interpersonal method than the currently given answer, it should be alright (and a good idea) to add your method as your own answer. If you used the given answer and just want to add how things turned out, I'd comment under the answer. – Kendra Dec 12 '17 at 22:13
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You do not want to trouble the teacher and that's nice of you...

  • ...but he/she is troubling you and this is worth at least an attempt to fix
  • ...and you won't have the chance to trouble him/her anymore anyway, in the future, as you're leaving high school.

So I'd suggest to go ahead and attempt the fix.

Phase 1 - Request for clarification

I'd go with the following e-mail

Good morning/afternoon/evening mr/mrs [teacher's last name],

I read the amended version of my speech and I found it considerably different than my original one: differences are remarkable and in terms of meaning, rather than strict language corrections. This is not what I intend to say. Can we have a talk about this? I am really looking forward to discuss this with you.

[Choose a kind-and-nice closure formula in this phase]

This is where you tell them that it's not what you are intended to say, and because you want (you have right to) speak your own mind, there's no point in talking if you have to say things different than those you want to say; anyway, as this is an attempt to discuss-and-fix, it's still worth closing in a nice way.

Phase 2 - Your final decision

If the teacher does not answer or answers that there's no need to discuss it:

Good morning/afternoon/evening mr/mrs [teacher's last name]

as it stands, I confirm that this speech does not represent what I intend to say, so I am afraid that I will not give the speech.

[Kind-but-not-necessarily-nice closure formula]

Here's where you refuse to speak considering that they didn't want you to speak your mind. As I feel that no collaboration - not even discussion - is rude, you don't need a nice closure, a kind one will suffice.

Instead, if he/she agrees to sit down with you and discuss but will not bulge:

Look, I want to thank you very much for all you did in these years and, eventually, for taking further time to discuss this with me. I strongly appreciate that. The point is that we are on very different perspectives here, and as this version of the speech does not represent what I intend to say, I am afraid that I will not give the speech.

Here is where they at least tried to collaborate by discussing: while you still rightfully refuse to speak other people's words instead of yours, this is a way to close with at least a nice thank you.

Get up, give a kind salutation, and go.

| improve this answer | |
  • Thanks a lot for this. Thanks for the non-emotional non-offensive way of framing things. Couldn't have put them in better words than you. I'll update on the progress. – See Jian Shin Dec 5 '17 at 9:59
  • I suggest also saying that if he doesn't declare why he changed your speech that you would either give your version or none at all. – Fl.pf. Dec 5 '17 at 10:19
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This is very late on my part, but since it may still be relevant: Life is full of difficult decisions. You might not WANT to deliver that speech but you did it in the end. You might not WANT to trouble anyone, but that oftentimes simply the cost of rebellion. Going forward, you will face situations that don't have a clear-cut answer. Sometimes, you will have to break the rules. Sometimes, breaking rules doesn't have any merit.

In this specific case, you may have been able to give your speech just fine - what could they possibly do to you now that you're graduating? And what could one last act of defiance do to them; it's not like they can take action, so how could the staff members possibly be punished? The only caveat is that wouldn't be able to ask for a letter of recommendation from these staff members, and logistical issues might get messier if you need something from this institution (e.g. requesting an old transcript; if they're petty, they might make that intentionally more difficult).

So it seems like it really boils down to a sense of justice. You're ambivalent, because you don't want to embarrass your teachers or a school you feel obligated to represent well, but you also want to speak from the heart and encourage people to be their best selves. At the end of the day, you decide what is more important to you.

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It's a few days after the graduation, and this is how I dealt with it.

I did give the speech

I simply had to. There was nobody else that was going to give the speech and I don't want to put my teachers in a bad position. The teacher's bosses were there. (The chairman of the school, who we never met before and don't know about.)

I added some lines before the speech.

I mentioned "the following speech might not accurately represent my views".

I apologized to my classmates that night.

Right after the event I was busy, but right after that I spoke to my classmates in our Facebook group chat. I told them that wasn't my speech and I was very sorry about it. I told them to tell their parents if they bothered.

Conclusion

I am very sad about the outcome. My friends once jokingly said that I at least have one out of the 12 core values of my school - justice, but I don't live up to that. I did what I have to but I am very guilty of the outcome. The worst thing is, I have no idea what I should do if a similar situation occurs again.

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