Gay High School Valedictorian Gets the Last Laugh Delivering Grad Speech on TV

Evan Young was told he couldn’t speak at his commencement ceremony, so Larry Wilmore swooped in to help.
Jun 7, 2015·
Jennifer Swann is TakePart’s culture and lifestyle reporter.

This graduation season has been filled with inspirational celebrity speeches from the likes of Michelle Obama, Madeleine Albright, and Maya Rudolph. But an 18-year-old high school senior may have just outdone them all.

Evan Young was told he couldn’t give his commencement address at his high school graduation, so he delivered it on national television instead. The valedictorian and honor student wore his cap and gown to The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore on Friday, where he came out as gay and offered a simple but compassionate piece of advice: Hug someone.

The honest, forthright speech moved the studio audience to roaring applause, but it had a chance at never being heard. Young was banned from speaking at Twin Peaks Charter Academy in Longmont, Colorado, after officials saw a first draft of his speech and deemed it inappropriate, partly because Young disclosed that he was gay.

RELATED: The Controversial Reason a High School Canceled Its Valedictorian’s Speech

“None of these topics are ever appropriate for a speech at a graduation ceremony,” school officials said in a press statement that described Young’s speech as including “references to personal matters of a sexual nature.”

But for Young, the speech was intended to address universal themes of respect, tolerance, and acceptance while using humor to divulge his deepest, darkest secrets. Granted, some of those secrets included using SparkNotes rather than reading Crime and Punishment in its entirety. Still, the message of inclusivity and positivity was not lost on the cheering crowd at The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore.

“My biggest secret of all: I’m gay. I understand this might be offensive to some people, but it’s who I am,” Young said on the show. “When I was writing this speech I was endlessly debating with myself whether I should reveal this, on account of how divisive an issue this is and how gay people tend to be stereotyped, but I thought that if I did, I should repeatedly apologize and beg you guys not to think any differently of me.”

Young had good reason to fear coming out in front of his teachers and peers, and even to wait until graduation to do so. LGBT youths face high rates of harassment and bullying on middle and high school campuses across the country: 74 percent reported being verbally harassed for their sexual orientation, and more than half were bullied for their gender expression, according to a 2014 survey by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Consequently, LGBT students who are bullied at school often suffer psychologically and academically.

But Young ended his speech on a brighter note. “If there’s one thing I’ve learned at this school, it’s that we can still be friends even if we profoundly disagree with each other,” he said. “So I have one final request for you: Hug someone.”

After enjoying his viral fame this summer, Young plans to attend Rutgers University in the fall.