June 25, 2006

Look out kids

It all began a few weeks ago, when Boy in Black was asked to submit his valedictory speech to the high school administration for approval. He knew what he submitted would raise eyebrows and cause a commotion in this conservative community. And of course, he was right.

His speech, written as advice to his classmates, was about the music of Bob Dylan, and his own conviction that questioning authority and protesting against the dominant culture is more important now than ever. His speech included a song he had written with those beliefs in mind. His plan was to bring both guitar and harmonica to the podium, and sing the words he had written to the music of Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues.

His submission of the speech led to a flurry of emails, with administrators suggesting changes and Boy in Black politely explaining why he wasn't going to change what he wrote. The revisions they suggested had nothing to do with making the song stronger, and everything to do with changing the content. Boy in Black’s refusal to comply with the suggested revisions led to several meetings with the principal and assistant principals. Boy in Black brought his guitar over to the high school and performed the song for some of the administrators. Some English teachers and the band director got involved, supporting what he intended to do. The school board and the superintendent were given copies of the song.

No one wanted to actually come out and say that they disagreed with his message: instead, they just kept picking at particular lines. Here are just a few examples.

One administrator didn’t like this line from the beginning of the speech: "Now I don’t think I did the song justice because, ironically, I was pretty busy getting my conscientious objector file together these past few weeks, but I think Dylan would be okay with that." Boy in Black’s view was that if the school was willing to allow members of the military, in full uniform, on stage at graduation in tacit support of the military, they certainly ought to allow him to voice an alternative view.

One administrator complained that the song was way too dark. The song contained references to the war in Iraq, to the No Child Left Behind Act, and the death of Emmet Till. "You are right," said Boy in Black. "The song is dark. That's my point. These are dark times."

One administrator didn't like the following lines: "Administrators still preach/To stifle students' free speech/Mold a puppet out of each." ("They gonna tell me to take those lines out?" asked Boy in Black. "That would certainly be ironic.")

Another administrator didn't like the line: "Don’t follow cheaters/Just because they’re leaders." Boy in Black was prepared to give hundreds of examples from both history and current times to explain why that line was good advice.

An assistant principal visited Spouse at work and showed him changes she wanted Boy in Black to make on the speech. Spouse told her that Boy in Black could make his own decisions, and he had complete confidence in his son. Boy in Black, angry that the administration would put pressure on his parent, called the school and politely asked for an appointment with the acting principal. He went in, calmly explained his reason for each lyric they had questioned, and stood his ground. He had decided that he would rather not give a speech than allow his words to be censored.

Eventually, thanks to at least one open-minded administrator, he was given the go-ahead for the speech.

And so this morning, at the big convention center downtown, in front of thousands of people, with the conservative members of the school board, the superintendent, all the principals, and several high-ranking members of the military sitting behind him on the stage, Boy in Black got up to the podium to give his speech. He choose not to wear the mortar board or his honor society sash. In black pants and a black shirt, his royal blue gown open and billowing behind him like a cape, he strode across the stage to pick up his electric guitar and put on his harmonica necklace, shaking his long hair out of his eyes as he did so.

He spoke directly to the hundreds of classmates who sat before him in their blue robes and caps, and told them why he thought Bob Dylan’s message was still important. When he said that he was a conscientious objector, a murmur rose from the crowd, sounds of both approval and disapproval, with some pockets of applause. And then he began singing, confidently and clearly, the lyrics he had written.

In the second verse, his classmates stopped him with a round of spontaneous applause. He paused, smiling, and waited until the applause died down before he finished the verse and went on to the next five. At the end, his classmates did something I’ve never seen before at a high school graduation. They gave him a standing ovation.

83 comments:

Saoirse said...

Wow.

I admire Boy in Black and am thankful that he was willing to speak up.

That was huge.

mc said...

what a fantastic story! three cheers for Boy in Black -- and for the parents who taught him to be so steadfast and brave.

Songbird said...

Wow! What a great person you have raised, jo(e), smart and cool and courageous.

KF said...

That's just wonderful, jo(e) -- finally, a graduation address that matters! Good for him for standing his ground, and good for you and Spouse for having raised such a brave, thoughtful kid.

New Kid on the Hallway said...

Hooray for Boy in Black! It may sound corny, but this post brought tears to my eyes. How wonderful.

AAYOR said...

I wasnt going to admit it, but since NK did... ;-) This story really moved me. You kick ASS, B.I.B.!

Anonymous said...

Yes, this is really terrific. I've met Boy in Black, and liked him then. I like him now even more. He really is right, too, that now more than ever it's important to voice an opinion. Nice job. Pass this on Mom: A lot of people are really proud of how you handled yourself and of how you put out the kind of message that needs to be heard. You used your stage responsibly and well! Way to handle the suits, and keep it up.

Artist Friend

Chip said...

OMFG!!! Jo(e) this is absolutely amazing!! I cannot believe how cool and courageous your son is! It's so great that he fought those administration types. And the reaction was great! I can't even imagine that happening in my high school when I went there :-)

Man, you must be so proud of your son!

Camera Obscura said...

Kudos to B.I.B. for neither caving or cancelling with a pout.

liz said...

And another standing ovation down here.

landismom said...

That is a totally awesome story. I hope you print this out and stick it in his high school yearbook for him to find 10 years from now. What an amazing kid!

Scrivener said...

I can totally believe how cool and courageous your son is. I'm with Liz: let him know he's getting a standing ovation thousands of miles away too.

Not Scott said...

Well done, BiB. We can see the ripples all the way out west.

What Now? said...

How inspirational! This is a wonderful story. You and Spouse must be so very proud of Boy in Black, and I really appreciate your sharing this inspirational story with us. Happy graduation, BIB!

Queen of West Procrastination said...

That's amazing. I'm especially proud of him for standing up for himself to the principal and providing all of his reasonings. And for calling them on having high-ranking military on the stage. (Seriously? At a high school grad? How sheltered am I, as a Canadian, that I had no idea?)

susan said...

Hear, hear!!!! Good for Boy in Black for sticking to his principles, and for standing by his words: they matter. And good for all of you, who created the environment where BiB's calm strength and wisdom was nurtured.

Laura said...

Absolutely wonderful!! We need more Boys in Black around here.

RageyOne said...

Wow! Jo(e), you must be proud of Boy in Black! Kudos to him for defending his writing and giving what sounds like an awesome speech/song!

Angry Pregnant Lawyer said...

Yay, yes, you must be so proud of him! Fight the power, BIB!

Oh, and this:

Some English teachers and the band director got involved, supporting what he intended to do.

Of course the English teachers got involved! English teachers rule. A separate "yay" for BIB's English teachers who stood up for his right to sing his song!

Kai said...

I am so glad they let him give his speach uncensored. Kudos to Boy in Black for standing his ground.

Flavia said...

You have the most amazing children, Jo(e).

If you wrote a parenting guidebook, I'd buy up the entire stock and give out copies to every parent-to-be I meet.

BeachMama said...

You must be so proud of Boy in Black. Good for him and Congratulations to him on taking a stand. Such a shame we can't hear him sing the song.

Autumn said...

How very proud of him you must be. I spoke at my graduation, and I know what a big responsibility it feels like. I'm very proud of him too.

Also, I just woke from a dream where I went camping with you and the kids. You don't happen to like SweetTarts do you?

Dr. Mon said...

*More applause over here!*

ABDmom said...

Way to kick ass, Boy in Black!

You must be so proud, jo(e). Hell, I'm proud of him, and I've never met him (unless you count my dream). :)

Congratulations on raising a fine human being. I am grinning ear to ear right now. Thanks for sharing this day with us--what a great young man Boy in Black is.

Jane Dark said...

Wow. So can we see the lyrics?

Shannon said...

Bless him. That's a beautiful story. You must be incredibly proud of him. I'd dearly love to see a transcript of the speech.

jayfish said...

f'n beautiful. shows why he's at the top of his class.

Repressed Librarian said...

Way to go, Boy in Black!

Jo(e), when I read your stories and see that a family as incredible and wonderful as yours exists, it restores my faith in humanity.

And it's interesting that so many of us bloggers have dreams about you. A few nights ago, I dreamt that I was an extra on a cross-country road trip with your family in a big white van. And we kept stopping to get out and dance!

Sarah Sometimes said...

Congratulations! This is a wonderful story. You must be very proud, and you should be.

Friday Mom said...

What an amazing kid! Must be the genes. His parents seem pretty extraordinary too. Add me to the list of those standing to applaud him. He's adding a lot of light to the world in these dark times.

Peri said...

What a wonderful moment for BIB and your family. Please do share the lyrics with us!

We all need a shot of BIB's courage, too. He should bottle it. :)

Jennifer (ponderosa) said...

Bravo, Boy in Black!!

kermitthefrog said...

congratulations to BIB, from all of us, on his graduation and his steadfastness!

rachel said...

BRAVA! What a wonderful thing!

Kathryn said...

Oh,- you've been making me cry again!
In the UK we have nothing like that sort of tradition of giving a student a voice as they leave school (actually, they don't so much leave as peter out, which is rather a shame...but that's another story)so I only imagine the impact.
Breathtaking!
Not for the first time, I wish you and yours were somewhere where we could get together irl. I'd love BIB and TeenWonder to meet; they sing from matching song sheets!

MindSpin said...

At my school I'm the teacher in charge of checking those graduation speeches. I am proud of Boy in Black to the point of tears. I hope he goes on speaking out and that his whole generation adopts his courage because that kind of courage is our hope.

I'm relieved that the administration opted to allow Boy in Black to speak his truth. I've known school administrators who spent so much time dealing with critical folks that their mission became keeping their asses covered. There are, fortunately, exceptions.

Wol said...

Huzzah for Boy in Black! He is a role model for his peers and adults. What a great moment for him and the whole Jo(e) family.

Connie said...

Rock on, Boy in Black! In another 17 years, when you've reached the requisite 35, I will vote for you for president.

I'll leave my contact info with your mom so you'll know where to come with campaign contributions.

Connie said...

*for* campaign contributions, oops.

Girl said...

I am beaming with pride right now. I am sure you were too.

Thank you for raising children who believe in themselves.

listmaker said...

You must be so proud! What an incredible young man. Congratulations Boy in Black!

Poor Mad Peter said...

A slightly different, but nonetheless sympathetic perspective: in an age when "protest" and "rebelliousness" have been tamed and commodified, rendered into sterile shills for corporate profits, it is refreshing and heartening to some real, substantive protest and a bona fide positive rebellious act.

I like BiB's thoughtfulness as well as his courage. And I congratulate your family on nurturing both qualities at once.

Rev Dr Mom said...

Another standing ovation from here! Awesome.

When LD#1 was a senior in college she was asked to speak at the Dean's Dinner, honoring Dean's list students. Her speech was awesome, but because it referred to her learning to be an activist and to the best part of college being "messing with her mind" the administration found it controversial, and the presdent of the college walked past her afterwards without even speaking to her. I am so glad Boy in Black was able to give the speech he needed to give, and that the administration wasn't able to interfere.

peripateticpolarbear said...

What a beautiful, beautiful child. I know he's not technically a child anymore, but still...

And I'll give a shout out to the band director for supporting him. As a former music teacher, I can say that not many of my former colleagues would go out on a limb for non-classical music (which I disagree with--any music that moves you is good music.) Go band dude or dudette.

But mostly go boy in black and the folks that dreamed him up.

Pilgrim/Heretic said...

jo(e), you and your family are So. Very. Awesome.

Claps and cheers from Spain too!

Seeking Solace said...

Cheers to The Boy in Black for standing his ground and knowing what's right. You should be very proud!!!

lostinthemiddle said...

Ditto ditto ditto.

And, also, can I just say: I feel a little weepy--reassured, uplifted, and overwhelmed--seeing that his song and his performance of it spoke to/for so many of his classmates. Their applause speaks volumnes about who they are, as well as who the phenomenal boy-in-black is.

I hope they can be brave and strong and make good in the world in a way that our country seems to have lost track of.

Teri said...

Add me to the standing ovation crowd. How brave - and what clarity of vision to know what must be said!

will smama said...

Ah yes, THERE's my hope. Thank you BiB for helping me find it.

Phantom Scribbler said...

Another one tearing up. That's some man that you've raised there, jo(e).

joanna said...

Amen, phantom scribbler. This story speaks to you and your spouse's childrearing and integrity as well as your son's own innate integrity and strength.

zartman said...

What an uplifting story to read on Monday morning.

Thanks for sharing. Stories like these keep me going.

timna said...

another wow here.
way to go BiB.

Mona Buonanotte said...

I am now Boy in Black's biggest fan.

Did you record this for posterity and blogging bragging rights? I'd love to hear this.

Psycho Kitty said...

My heart is fit to burst from pride. And I'm not even his mama.

kickstand said...

Congratulations to BiB and kudos for his courage and wisdom.

svetlana001 said...

way to go, BiB! hope the poor salutatorian didn't have to follow you....

Rana said...

Standing.

Clapping.

And whistling my fool head off.

Way to go, BinB!

ScienceWoman said...

Huge smile on my face. Way to go, Boy in Black! I wish I could have been there.

In my high school, the valedictorian didn't automatically give the speech. Instead anyone in the top 5% of the class could audition to a panel of teachers and administrators to give a speech. Then the "adults" chose the winners. I was valedictorian, but I didn't even audition. There is no way that they would have chosen me, and my speech would not have been half as cool as Boy in Black's!

Casey said...

Congratulations, Boy in Black!

kate5kiwis said...

jo(e)
*clapping and cheering* from the bottom of the globe.
BiB you totally rock squirt!!

Yankee T said...

He is a totally wonderful, admirable kid! You must be so proud! WAY TO GO, BOY IN BLACK!

KLee said...

How cool is Boy in Black? Not only to write the truth, but to stand his ground and refuse to chage what he thought was right!

I'm proud of the fact that his speech and song were all about the oppression and censorship we see all around us, and that he refused to become a party to it.

He sure has some great parents that taught him to think for himself! Way to go, BiB AND Mom and Dad.

Inkling said...

I'm kind of embarrassed for the administrators. It's amazing to me how out of touch they could be with their own student body--if only they could see clearly that this was a thoughtful, mature act rather than a chance to rabble-rouse, and if so many parents could see inside the minds of their children instead of fearing them, it would be very healing.

Lilian said...

This is absolutely AMAZING! Everyone has already said everything I wanted to say and more. I hope I have a moment like this as a mother someday.

zelda1 said...

Way to go Boy in Black.

Kate said...

You done good Boy in Black! Where were you when I was graduating from high school? You are another reason to be hopeful about this world.

(You too jo(e)!! You are an amazing ally to your children. This is just one of a hundred examples.)

kathy a said...

i'm late to the party, but what everyone said! woo hooo!

KathyR said...

You must be so proud. Hell, I'm a little teary and I never met the kid, so you must be over the moon. Congrats to him and you.

Sue said...

Oh wow! Boy in Black is awesome!!!!

halloweenlover said...

I'm all teary!!! What a fabulous day! I'm so proud of him and happy for him. What an amazing man you've raised.

Now, Jo(e), when is that parenting manual coming out again?

undine said...

Wow--and congratulations to Boy in Black.

moxiemomma said...

goosebumps! an amazing kid.

Silver Creek Mom said...

The administration must have know this amazing young man would be an amazing validictorian. RIGHT ON! I can't believe they tried to change this. This post brought tears to my eyes, cuse I could feel the pride through your words.

I hope the address will be so moving next year when it's my daughters turn to go through it.

Leslee said...

Jo(e) this story really inspired me. I hope to be half the mother you are some day. Obviously you've done something right with your kids for them to understand when it's good to stick up for yourself.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

1:37 AM and I finally got to read this. ANd boy and I glad I did, it was really worth it. Great experience and great read. Congratulations to you for raising such a great son,and to him for sticking by his convictions.

I loved that Dylan Song--it was popular when I was his age.

Mouse said...

I love Dylan; ya know, my phone rings to Mr. Tamborine Man.

Go Boy in Black; that's just awesome.

They wouldn't let me read all of Dr.Suess's Oh! The Places You'll Go to my sr. class so my valedictorian speech incorporated that book.

Mieke said...

Bravo! Bravo! Bravo! Standing up,clapping, and teary for the boy and for his father and mother! Bravo!!!

elswhere said...

Just got to read this today, and I'm knocked back by your child.

I'll add to all the voices praising your parenting, too--lately when I run into an isue with my daughter I've been asking myself "what would jo(e) do?" Seriously.

jess said...

I wish your son had given the speech at my brother's graduation. Instead I had to sit through the most wishy washy blah speeches I've ever heard.

Anonymous said...

Boy in Black's speech was amazing. I could go on and on about the great points in the song. But instead I will say that I could not have picked a better speech to get the first standing ovation--he deserved it.

Sweet Funny Extra's sister

Beanie Baby said...

That's amazing, jo(e). You must be so proud of him.