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U.S. valedictorian denied high school diploma for saying ‘hell’ in speech

Graduation hat and diploma

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As a high school student, Kaitlin Nootbaar had great marks, kept busy with extra-curricular activities and was picked to give the valedictorian speech.

Then a single word the young Oklahoma woman uttered in that speech got her in trouble.

As she is about to start university on full scholarship, Ms. Nootbaar's family says her Oklahoma high school won't release her diploma because she accidentally said "hell" in her graduation address.

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The dispute in Prague, Oklahoma (population 2,386) was first reported by CBS affiliate station KFOR.

Ms. Nootbaar's father, David, told KFOR his daughter hadn't even meant to swear when she spoke at Prague High School's graduation ceremony.

In her prepared speech, she spoke about choosing a career and mentioned that she first wanted to be a nurse, then hoped to become a veterinarian.

"How the heck do I know? I've changed my mind so many times" she planned on saying.

Her speech was a riff on a scene from the popular vampire movie The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, where the character Jessica makes a similar valedictorian speech and says, "Who the hell knows?"

Mr. Nootbaar said the audience laughed and applauded his daughter.

But afterward, he said, when she wanted to pick up her certificate, the principal told her: "Your diploma is out here. But you ain't getting it. Close the door. We've got a problem."

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She was told she would have to write a letter of apology first.

"She earned that diploma," Mr. Nootbaar told KFOR. "She did all the state curriculum. Four years of straight As and 4.0 the whole way through."

School officials declined to comment when contacted Monday.

"This matter is confidential and we can not publicly say anything about it," school superintendent Rick Martin said in a statement to KFOR.

The school's football team are the Red Devils and its website features a horned creature holding a trident and winking.

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About the Author
National reporter

Tu Thanh Ha is based in Toronto and writes frequently about judicial, political and security issues. He spent 12 years as a correspondent for the Globe and Mail in Montreal, reporting on Quebec politics, organized crime, terror suspects, space flights and native issues. More

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