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Goldson's C-A Valedictorian Speech Draws International Attention

Graduation ceremonies are fairly rudimentary. You get in, take your seat, listen to some speeches that appreciate graduating, and get out. The lineup changed a bit this past summer. Instead of presenting her pre-submitted acceptance speech, the class of 2010 valedictorian Erica Goldson made a bold move, swapping her submitted speech for a new one at the last minute. This new speech had a somewhat different take on graduating.

Erica discussed the topic of public schooling, and not just the fact that she was glad to be done with it. She proceeded to describe in detail the woes of the modern education system, focusing mainly on the modern system’s emphasis on repetitive memorization and lack of inspiration. At first the crowd could not decide if she was serious, but when the reality of her words settled in, onlookers were surprised, many of them stunned. Several were annoyed and even angered at her topic decision. Was the graduation ceremony the right time to present such a speech?

Erica seems to think so. “I feel it was the perfect time to talk about the topic,” she said in a telephone interview with the "C-A Circuit."

“To have the valedictorian say something so stunning and contradictory is eye- opening and surprising.”

Regardless of one’s opinion of the occasion she chose, Erica seems to have gathered national fame and attention after her speech, becoming somewhat of a celebrity for the town of Coxsackie. Presently, she has participated in four radio talk shows, one of them in San Francisco with Ron Paul and John Taylor Gatto, a worldwide leading proponent of the “unschooling” movement. She has attended an unschooling conference in Boston and is scheduled to go to one in Minnesota during February. All of this attention has generated over half a million visits to her blog and just more than 450,000 views of the YouTube video of the speech.

When asked if she was surprised about her newfound fame, the valedictorian responded, “Oh yeah, I expected some attention from the town, but I was especially surprised by the internet. It’s amazing how quickly those ideas spread.”

A lot of people who were annoyed by the speech’s placement at graduation pointed a finger at Erica’s sophomore English teacher, Donna Bryan, who received a shout out at one point during the presentation. “It is a discredit to Erica to say that I was the one behind it all because that suggests she couldn’t have written it herself.”

Ms. Bryan as well has received much attention since the speech. She spent all summer responding to people from all over the world, and has been requested for interviews by The Washington Post, Education Weekly, and The Washington Times. “People with e-mail addresses from Russia, the Ivory Coast, New Zealand and Algeria have contacted me, and all of the communications have been positive.” In response to the negative reactions Erica received, she stated that “people must not have understood her message; she wasn’t meaning to be disrespectful.” Ms. Bryan would know. As an English teacher, she has done much in the way of bringing knowledge about the education system into her classroom, as any of her students could recount. When asked if she was surprised by the attention Erica has gotten, Bryan said, “At first I was surprised, but then I realized that everyone has gone through public education. It amazes me the effects computers have had on the immediacy of response. It’s an encouraging thought.”

A lot of the opposition to the speech has come from residents who feel that a small and local ceremony is not the right time to put forth such ideas, and that ceremonies of the sort shouldn’t be disrupted in such a manner. “In our current climate, people who speak about reality and refuse to say the things that people expect them to are often labeled as negative or disrespectful,” Bryan noted.

This may be the case in small towns where public opposition is not frequently heard of. “On a local level, I can understand the response [to the speech],” Erica explained. “And even on a national level there was probably opposition even though I only heard from the people who cared about the issue.”

Whatever the case may be, all of the muck stirred up from the airing of Erica’s claims must point to some broader current. What can we learn from those words that so vividly denounced how students spend their days? Is it time to, like Erica, take a deeper look into public schooling as an issue? “I feel that a lot of people are ignorant to the subject. All of learning is not just contained text. There’s more to education than just memorizing information and it deserves to get heard.” I asked Erica If she would do it all over again if given the chance. “Heck, yes,” she said confidently.

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Posted in: News by SoulRiser on October 5, 2010 @ 3:51 PM

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