Saturday, December 16, 2017
Opinion

Ruth: Wharton salutatorian deserved his moment

There probably will come a moment years from now when the family of Harold Shaw will be sitting around the dinner table reminiscing, and they will laugh about that time a young, promising student ran afoul of the pinched, paper-pushing police. Good times.

It is June, a time when the community is awash in high school graduation ceremonies. It is supposed to be a moment to revel in accomplishment, to remember the good times and most of all to look forward to the future.

What 17-year-old Harold Shaw will remember from his Wharton High School graduation is this valuable lesson — the world is full of M.A.S.H.-esque busybody, clipboard-toting Frank Burns types who could turn a Christmas carol into a Wagnarian dirge.

As the salutatorian with a 7.31 GPA, Shaw was scheduled to deliver a speech at Wharton's June 3 graduation ceremony. Really now, how risky is this? Did anyone truly expect Shaw to somehow turn into Martin Luther nailing his diploma to Wharton's doors? Well, yes, as a matter of act, apparently so.

Despite his academic success, young Master Shaw had become something of an irritant to Wharton principal Brad Woods, especially after the young man posted a hilarious YouTube video mocking the school's — ahem — rather nasty lavatory facilities and posting the email addresses of the somewhat humorless Woods and Hillsborough school superintendant MaryEllen Elia. You really must see this masterpiece.

Shaw submitted three drafts of his speech for Woods to censor until it was finally dull enough to be delivered. But the budding Michael Moore was on a very short leash.

About four minutes into his speech, the young man stumbled over the wording and mumbled: "Remember, do what it takes," as he tried to recover his place in the text.

Well, that was all it took for Woods, who had been zealously following the script as if he were a National Security Agency analyst perusing a phone call from the Taliban. In front of the assembled audience (but behind Shaw's back) Woods quickly jumped to his feet and cut off the salutatorian's microphone — all because the student had briefly gotten lost in his text.

Elia defended the denial of Shaw's First Amendment rights as the price a student must pay when he breaks the rules. "There are consequences," the Mother Superior Superintendant groused.

But no rules were broken. A young man likely nervous speaking before a large gathering merely had a momentary lapse of concentration in following his text and uttered: "Remember, do what it takes." This was not exactly a V For Vendetta moment.

Perhaps Woods and Elia didn't appreciate Shaw's mocking video exposing the school's lavatories as something out of a Syrian refugee camp. You really need to log on to YouTube to see for yourself how your tax dollars are being spent at Wharton.

But instead of hassling a bright, funny, talented teenager on what was supposed to be a very important day in his life, perhaps Elia and Woods could put their heads together and see if they can find some money in the school budget for a plunger.

The superintendent and a principal in one of the largest school districts in the country didn't have the maturity or the compassion to simply allow one of their best and brightest to enjoy his moment. That's sad. Chintzy, too.

The good news is that Harold Shaw is well rid of them. But they'll always have his classic YouTube video to remember him by. You ought to see it.

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