Diocese Blocks Holy Cross Valedictorian from Delivering Speech
Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher
Christian Bales is this year's valedictorian at Holy Cross High School in Covington, but during Friday night's graduation ceremony, he was forbidden from delivering his speech.
So, too, was the student council president.
Instead, Bales and the other student delivered the remarks to which the Diocese of Covington objected outside the Connor Convocation Center at Thomas More College in Crestview Hills after the ceremony.
Bales learned that his speech was rejected on Friday morning. His mother had already been specifically spoken to about what attire was appropriate for the ceremony.
"I had a conversation with the school just basically wanting to talk about the dress code and what was expected - tie, shirt," said Gillian Marksberry, Bales's mother. "Christian has been known to wear his fabulous eyebrows and eye lashes and so forth. It was hard to listen because it's always difficult when someone is not accepting your child, somebody who is honestly such a wonderful, beautiful person, but I am old enough and wise enough to know that we have to perform sometimes. That's how we navigate through society, and he had worked so hard on this title, I didn't want it taken from him.
"So, I acknowledged that we would respect (the dress code) and had a talk with Christian and he understood. So, we moved forward this week fully expecting to come tonight and deliver the speech and cheer him on, and that would be a wonderful closing to his high school career."
In a statement to The River City News, the Diocese of Covington said the speech was turned in late and included parts that were political and against the Catholic faith.
"School officials and representatives of the Diocese of Covington reserve the right to review and approve all student speeches to be presented in public at high school graduations," Diocese spokesperson Tim Fitzgerald said in the statement. "All speeches must be submitted in a timely manner. The student speeches for the Holy Cross High School graduation were not submitted for review before the deadline. When the proposed speeches were received, they were found to contain elements that were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church."
But Bales said that he did not understand exactly what was meant by that.
"There wasn't very much talk about a definite deadline for the speeches. We didn't hear much about it," Bales said. "I turned mine in unfinished. I had a draft last Friday and turned in my finished speech on Tuesday."
He said Holy Cross officials were fine with it - but later found out that the Diocese objected.
A large crowd of classmates and other supporters gathered around Bales as he delivered his remarks outside at Thomas More following the ceremony, which was not attended by Bishop Roger Foys, who had been listed in the program.
Bales said that his speech was mostly about the power of youth in America.
"I thought it was pretty mild. Maybe part of it was, I referenced the Stoneman Douglas teenagers. I know they have been strong advocates for gun reform, but I didn't talk about gun reform, so I really have no idea," Bales said, referencing the student activists that emerged following the deadly shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.
He also said that he was not sure whether his speech was rejected because he is gay. Supporters wore rainbow ribbons as they accompanied him to talk to members of the media after he delivered his speech (security officers forbade journalists from being on Thomas More's campus during the graduation ceremony, so an interview was conducted across the street from campus.).
Bales suggested that he had been a polarizing figure for school and Diocese leadership because of his activism. He specifically cited his involvement in a youth organization that helped craft a bill to have a statue of Confederate president Jefferson Davis, a Kentucky native, removed from the state capitol. He also said that his class has been particularly outspoken. "I think that might have been a factor that put us on their map and push us to their approval," Bales said of the Diocese.
His classmates, however, have been largely supportive.
"I don't think I've spoken to one person who has opposed me. The only people who have opposed me have been the Diocese and the people who had to pass on their words to us," Bales said. "There are so many of my classmates who wanted to come outside and watch our speeches."
"I think that gets to what my speech was about in the first place," Bales said. "It is about empowerment through youth. We, as youth, have such dynamic ideas. ... As long as we don't let go of those values, we are going to be able to obtain change."
Marksberry said that Holy Cross has been good to her son.
"Thank you to Holy Cross. Thank you for embracing him, for helping him discover his voice, for helping him to love himself, helping guide him on his journey of growth, because individual teachers and staff at Holy Cross are absolutely amazing. I want people to understand that," Marksberry said. "I just always felt so blessed that they were part of our lives.
She had a different message for the Diocese.
"To the Diocese, I am disappointed. I am disappointed as a parishioner. I expected more, especially when we are raising our children and supposed to, as Christians, teach tolerance and unconditional love. I'm just disappointed."
Bales, who will major in biology at the University of Louisville, was unsure which part of his speech was in conflict with the teachings of the Catholic Church.
"What I've been taught about the Catholic faith is, it's about love and tolerance and acceptance of all people," he said. "I think that in my experience with the Diocese of Covington, it's kind of been antithetical of that. I've only had experience with them through our school but I have faced a lot of opposition based on who I am as a person, I don't violently oppose them ever, it's just kind of me being myself that is faced with opposition.
"I think that that might kind of scare them. I know a lot of people who are set in their ways are afraid of change, but it's coming and I am the prime example of that."
The River City News is publishing Christian Bales's speech in its entirety here:
The young people will win is a mantra that I'm sure many of you have heard if you've been attentive to the media recently. It's a phrase adopted by the prolific Stoneman Douglas teenagers who are advocating for an agenda - our rights to feel secure as humans. We frequently see these individuals behind a computer screen, and therefore we see them as a separate body from us. However, they possess the same capabilities as us graduates. As we enter into the real world, we must remember that we have a voice. Throughout the past four years at Holy Cross, I've learned how to utilize my voice to advocate for my beliefs as an ethical individual. I've faced opposition in a number of scenarios, but my voice continued to grow in intensity as I faced more adversity. Rather than allowing opposition to silence us, we must utilize it as empowerment. As long as we nurture our minds as youth, we'll be able to be equally impactful as we encounter the world.