Bryce Dershem was Valedictorian of the class at Eastern Regional
For most students, graduation is one of the most memorable achievements that they will experience, transitioning them into a life of adulthood. Bryce Dershem at Eastern Regional High School in Voorhees, NJ, was named Valedictorian of the class of 2021 and was giving his valedictory speech when his moment was cut short. That is until local and state organizers joined forces to give him his moment.
In a video that has taken social media by storm, Bryce Dershem is seen delivering his speech when a man who was reportedly identified as the school’s principal comes up to the podium and is seen taking away a piece of paper containing Bryce’s speech, along with the microphone in an attempt to censor his valedictory speech that included details about coming out as queer, and his battles with mental health.
In the video, you can see Dershem adjusting to the principal walking up as he’s handed a new microphone with a new piece of paper of an approved speech.
Speaking to CBS News, Dershem said that his principal said to him, “My graduation speech was not my therapy session.” An email was also sent to him by the principal, which noted that he wouldn’t be able to speak at graduation if he didn’t submit a new speech.
“I don’t know why just a reference to who I was warranted being cut off,” Dershem said. “I was on the verge of tears; I didn’t know what to do,” Bryce said that his speech was a speech of hope and to let every graduate know that their identity is enough.
After learning about what happened to Bryce, Garden State Equality’s Executive Director, Christian Fuscarino, condemned how the school administrator treated Bryce. He felt that it was important that Bryce got his moment.
“There is a long history of LGBTQ people being silenced or erased in our society, from New Jersey’s Division of Alcoholic Beverage Control shutting down gay establishments in the mid-20th century, so LGBTQ people didn’t have a safe space to gather, to the US Census still not counting LGBTQ people in 2020,” said Fuscarino. “Bryce being silenced is an example of that—a sign that, despite all the progress we have made as a community, LGBTQ erasure still happens in New Jersey today,” Fuscarino said.
“Garden State Equality exists to break that silence, to make sure LGBTQ people are visible and heard, and we were so happy to work with the Pitman Pride Alliance to give Bryce that platform he rightfully deserves as his class valedictorian and as an LGBTQ person.”
GSE teamed up with Pitman Pride alliance, a local organization in the town of Pitman, which is not far from Voorhees. Once both organizations got word of what he was experiencing, they researched ways to get in touch with Dershem to ensure that his voice was heard.
“I’m really grateful for this experience and to be given a chance to share my story,” Dershem said.