LOUISVILLE, Ky. – A Kentucky high school valedictorian used a bullhorn to give his graduation speech about the power of students to change the world after a Catholic diocese said he couldn't make the speech during commencement.
With students, teachers and relatives watching, Christian Bales gave his speech outside following Holy Cross High School's graduation ceremony Friday in northern Kentucky. By Tuesday, the initial disappointment over being silenced at the ceremony had given way to the realization that the snub let him reach a much wider audience.
"Had they allowed us to speak, we would have touched that little auditorium with maybe 300 people and then that would have been the end of it," he said in a phone interview. "Now there's a national stage."
Student council president Katherine Frantz also gave her speech by bullhorn after the diocese nixed it.
Diocese of Covington spokesman Tim Fitzgerald told news outlets the speeches were not submitted on time, and upon review "were political and inconsistent with the teaching of the Catholic Church."
Bales, who is gay, said the concern might have been that he would "go off script" or show up to commencement "decked out in full drag."
"Not that I intended on doing any of those things," Bales said.
Bales opened his four-minute speech by praising the campaign for stronger gun laws by students at a Florida high school where 17 people were fatally shot in February. He said the students at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are advocating for "our rights to feel secure as humans."
A gun-reform advocate, Bales said Tuesday he didn't mention the Florida teens to further that agenda. Instead, he wanted to showcase their activism as an example to others: to "further my idea that youth are dynamic and powerful, and that we're all capable of making the exact same impact."
In his speech, Bales declared that young people are "finished being complacent" and have a voice in shaping the world.
"There's a misguided notion that wisdom is directly proportional to age, but we're disproving that daily," he said. "Sometimes the wisest are the youngest in our lives, the ones who haven't yet been desensitized to the atrocities of our world. Therefore, we young people must be the educators. The young people must be willing to speak candidly about issues, and we mustn't tremble in the face of the institutions that try to silence us."
Bales made no mention of his sexual orientation in his speech. But he said he has faced opposition "in a number of scenarios, but my voice continued to grow in intensity as I faced more adversity. Rather than allowing opposition to silence us, we must utilize it as empowerment."
Bales' mother, Gillian Marksberry, agreed that the attempt to silence her son at graduation had backfired.
"They made his voice louder, is what I say," she said Tuesday in a phone interview. "That's the irony of it."
Bales' speech has garnered widespread media attention.
"This is just bigger than we ever imagined it would ever become," his mother said. "And it's wonderful. Especially the amount of support that's being received is just remarkable."
Bales' father offered to bring the bullhorn to amplify the students' speeches. The group formed outside a college convocation center where the commencement was held, creating a semicircle around the speakers.
"Even though the platform was taken from me, I just made my own because I feel like that was a message that I needed to get out to my classmates and to the people who are receptive and willing to listen," said Bales, who will attend the University of Louisville.