Feiler Faster

Valedictorians strike me as people who know how to follow instructions. Hardly the rebellious type. I should know. I was the Valedicotrian of the Savannah Country Day School class of 1983. And my honor came with a speech, as such honors usually do. Mine was probably six or seven minutes, if I had to guess, and began with a quote from Webster’s Dictionary (it was a shtick I used at the time) and ended with “The Bridge” perhaps the greatest poem ever written for such occasions, by Shel Silverstein. I still use it today whenever I’m asked to speak before students.

This bridge will only take you halfway there,
to those mysterious lands you long to see.
Through gypsy camps and swirling Arab fairs,
and moonlit woods where unicorns run free.
So come and walk awhile with me
and share the twisting trails and wonderous worlds I’ve known.
But this bridge will only take you halfway there.
The last few steps you have to take alone.

Well, it seems that Erica Corder of Monument, Colorado, suddenly forgot to follow the rules when she gave her Valedictory address in 2006, and turned her 30-second talk into a much longer appeal for Jesus. She had to apologize in an email to the entire school, and now she’s filed federal suit denying her equal protection under the law. Equal protection?!?! The school seems to have had an absurd amount of equal protection: There were fifteen valedictorians. If you’re looking for evidence of the obnoxious use of the courts to fight our religious battles, here it is:

As she stepped to the microphone for her commencement speech last spring, Erica Corder knew that what she was about to say might ruffle some feathers.
But the 2006 graduate of Lewis-Palmer High School in Monument – one of 15 valedictorians who addressed the crowd – didn’t believe she had a choice.
“I really felt God calling me to do this,” Corder said Thursday. “My top priority is obeying God.”
So Erica Corder thanked all the teachers, parents and peers in the crowd for their encouragement throughout the years.
Then, deviating from the 30-second speech that had been approved by the principal, she began speaking about “someone who loves you more than you could ever imagine.”
“His name is Jesus Christ,” Corder said. “If you don’t already know him personally, I encourage you to find out more about the sacrifice he made for you.”
The controversy was immediate. Parents and students – including some of her fellow valedictorians – complained that Corder had been proselytizing and that her comments were inappropriate. She also took heat from school officials for deviating from the approved script.
Before she was granted her diploma, Corder was required to apologize in an e-mail to the entire school community.
Now Corder is fighting back.
In a lawsuit filed in federal court this week, Corder says the school violated her rights to free speech and equal protection.

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