Our network

Principal cuts salutatorian's speech short | News

Title (Max 100 Characters)

Principal cuts salutatorian's speech short

Tampa, Florida -- Speaking in front of a large crowd can make anyone nervous and that's exactly what Wharton High School's salutatorian Harold Shaw said happened to him on Graduation Day this Monday. 

Shaw says during his fumble his principal overreacted, ruining the most important day of his young life -- a day he spent four years working towards.

During graduation, Shaw started to read his speech, approved by Principal Bradley Woods, who also followed along with his own copy.

At one point, the student with the 7.31 GPA stumbled and ad-libbed a line.

"Remember... do what it takes," Shaw said.

According to his script, Shaw was supposed to then say, "...but don't let anyone, and I mean anyone, tell you that you can't achieve something because you don't have what it takes."

But by then it was too late. Woods stood up, ordered Shaw's mike cut, and took to the podium.

"Thank you Harold. Here at Wharton High School we respect freedom of speech," Principal Woods is heard telling the graduates, their families and guests.

"I feel I've been robbed," says Shaw.

Why would the principal interrupt Shaw's speech? Shaw says it's retaliation for exposing conditions at the school.

Last month, he made a video he calls a "mockumentary" of the bathroom conditions at Wharton High and posted it on YouTube. The video showed empty toilet paper, paper towel and soap dispensers -- plus no running water and clogged toilets.

It's an issue Shaw included in his first draft of his salutatorian speech, a speech he rewrote three times before it was approved.

District officials say Woods had reason to stop Shaw's speech.

"He [Woods] experienced concern about the original version of the speech. He expressed concern over the video because of those things concern of what he [Shaw] might say Monday night," Hillsborough School District Spokesperson Stephen Hegarty says.

"We assured him, 100 percent, I will not go off my speech," Shaw argues.

Unlike other graduates who picked up their diplomas at Expo Hall after the ceremony, the principal told Shaw he had to pick up is diploma at school. The family contacted attorney Tom Parnell.

"I think his first amendment rights have been violated," says Parnell. "He [Woods] humiliated him in front of his friends, family and guests there."

Harold says he didn't even get the chance to give an important part of his speech.

"I didn't get to thank grandfather, mom, friends, grandmother, guidance counselor. I didn't get to thank any people essential to my success."

Shaw says he confronted the principal after the ceremony looking for answers. 

"I did go to him. I wanted my diploma and my questions answered. I'm not leaving here until I get my questions answered. I was stern with him." 

Shaw says when he did, two police officers escorted him out of the hall.

He says he'd like a public apology from Principal Woods. Woods did not return phone calls from 10 News.


Hillsborough County Deals

Hillsborough County Businesses