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05-30-07, 03:10 PM #1
High School Valedictorian under fire after sending religious message during speech
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The valedictorian of Wolfson High School's class of 2007 spoke out again Tuesday, responding to a complaint by a school board administrator who said the teen misled officials about the contents of her commencement speech.
Shannon Spaulding gave an address at graduation that lasted nearly 20 minutes and urged fellow students to find Jesus Christ, and warned them of consequences if they do not.
The student told Channel 4 she found out last week that she was the class valedictorian, and that she was told to simply write a speech to be read at the commencement ceremony.
Spaulding's speech centered on God and Jesus Christ -- a topic that prompted a commencement controversy.
"I want to tell you that Jesus Christ can you give you eternal life in Heaven," Spaulding said in her speech.
In an e-mail, a member of the superintendent's executive staff called the valedictorian dishonorable.
Channel 4 received the e-mail written by David Sundstrom, a member of the superintendent's executive staff, on Tuesday.
In the letter, Sundstrom called the speech "wholly inappropriate," and accused Spaulding of behaving dishonorably. He stated, "Protocols were in place for the school's principal … to review the text of the speech."
However, Sundstrom said Spaulding claimed the address wasn't ready.
Sundstrom's letter went on to state "… she played the adults who had trusted her to behave responsibly and she betrayed that trust."
Channel 4 reporter Jennifer Bauer shared a copy of Sundstrom's e-mail to Wolfson's valedictorian to see what she thought.
"I guess I don't totally understand why it's such a big deal," Spaulding said.
Spaulding said school administrators never gave her any guidelines about the length nor the content of her speech, and she said they didn't make a big deal about proofreading the speech before graduation.
"They knew I was busy trying to get everything else ready, so they just said, 'Don't worry about it.' They knew I would get it done," Spaulding said.
Of course the outstanding student finished her speech in time.
However, Spaulding said she did not think the religious comments she made would cause such a controversy.
She said the attention has not taken anything away from her accomplishments as the school's valedictorian, and if she could do it over again, she would say the same things.
"I can't say I'm sorry for the message I shared. I'm sorry if people were offended, but I still believe what I said," Spaulding said.
The principal of Wolfson told Channel 4 he was not sure from where Sundstrom got his information, but said that he would not characterize Spaulding as acting dishonorable or deceitful.
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