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Wisconsin high school censors student's graduation speech

TOMAHAWK, Wis. (AP) — A Wisconsin high school valedictorian decided against speaking at commencement after school administrators required she not reference discrimination, school shootings and gender inequality. Instead, a local newspaper published her speech.

Cait Christenson, who was among six valedictorians at Tomahawk High School, said administrators reviewed a written version of her speech and wanted to censor some topics for fear of provoking disagreement, judgment and making others feel attacked.

While administrators gave her the option of rewriting her speech, Christenson said she decided against speaking at Sunday's ceremony because it would get rid of the message she wanted to convey. The 18-year-old said she wanted to spark critical thinking, not advocate any specific policy changes, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported .

"The reasons I was not allowed to speak opposed exactly what I was trying to get across in my speech: being able to open a conversation civilly, and critically think about and accept other's opinions and values," Christenson said.

Principal Ryan Huseby confirmed that staff asked Christenson to edit her speech, but he emphasized it was her decision not to speak at the Sunday ceremony.

"We support our students' right to express their opinions in positive and productive ways," Huseby said. "As our graduates embark on the next stage in their lives, we encourage them to continue thinking critically and exercising their freedom of speech."

The Tomahawk Leader newspaper published her speech Tuesday. In it, Christenson wrote: "Instead of encouraging negative stereotypes and passing slurs throughout our society; instead of punishing the victims; instead of telling others how they should live and express themselves — put yourself in their shoes before passing judgment, incriminating and disrespecting others."

She added that "we can make changes in our nation and even around the world, just by promoting positivity, acceptance and equity."

Christenson said she's received a lot of support following the speech's publication.

"I feel more encouraged to share my passions and values with others now, because it's getting others to consider taboos that are often overlooked," she said.

Christenson will study community and nonprofit leadership at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall.

Information from: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

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