Springstead High valedictorian Jem Lugo was right about speech

Jem Lugo delivered a dulled-down speech at Springstead High’s graduation. Her original speech was rejected.

WILL VRAGOVIC | Times

Jem Lugo delivered a dulled-down speech at Springstead High’s graduation. Her original speech was rejected.

It could be one of those casual-but-sweeping life lessons that seem to be popular in graduation speeches these days:

Don't mess with people smarter than you.

Springstead High principal Susan Duval knows that one pretty well by now.

As you've probably read, Duval rejected valedictorian Jem Lugo's original graduation speech and demanded a more conventional replacement.

Lugo complied Thursday evening, but not before outmaneuvering Duval — taking her story to both local newspapers. Of course, local newspaper stories don't stay local these days.

By way of the Web, this one apparently reached the people at CBS News, who told Hernando Times education writer Tony Marrero they wanted Lugo to appear on The Early Show an offer she turned down. A Canadian radio station was also trying to track her down.

It's easy to see how this story would play out on the continentwide stage.

Lugo is, judging from her speech, articulate and funny. Along with her sky-high grade-point average, she was class president, yearbook editor and has won admission to Harvard University. Plus, she did nothing wrong.

Her original speech (available online at tampabay.com ) contains mostly standard graduation advice: Say what you believe, take time to have fun in life and, even, "always say please and thank you."

Not exactly Lenny Bruce.

Beyond a few mild vulgarities, the speech's irreverence is mostly in its off-hand tone. On the importance of earning a good living, for example, Lugo says, or wanted to say: "First off, get money."

Funny, right? I think even Duval may have appreciated it on some level. Because what struck me was how similar its style was to Duval's graduation addresses in 2004 and 2005. The second of these, for example, started off, "If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it."

Or, more accurately, it started with Duval's introduction: "I would like to share some personal thoughts." They weren't personal at all, of course, except to the Chicago Tribune's Mary Schmich, whose 1997 column Duval had found on the Internet and read nearly word for word.

In turned out the same was true of the previous year's speech, a string of witty sayings under the title, "All I Need to Know I Learned from Noah's Ark."

What's the difference here? Well, Lugo did just what smart high students are supposed to do — used her creativity to come up with an original expression of her thoughts and feelings. Duval did exactly what she shouldn't have done as the administrator most responsible for upholding her school's academic integrity: she cheated. And she was later fined for it by the state.

Too bad for Springstead, which recently earned the right to award International Baccalaureate diplomas after a rigorous application process.

This happened on Duval's watch and, from what I can tell, Springstead more than any other school in the county has fostered the kind of academic ambition that no doubt played a part in Lugo's application and acceptance to Harvard. That's why my son plans to go there next fall.

But don't feel sorry for Duval. Her hypocrisy and poor judgment led to this embarrassment.

Not smart.

Springstead High valedictorian Jem Lugo was right about speech 06/06/09 [Last modified: Saturday, June 6, 2009 10:10am]

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