Smithfield HS salutatorian addresses school board following graduation speech omission

Isle of Wight

SMITHFIELD, Va. (WAVY) — A Smithfield High School salutatorian who says his graduation speech was censored addressed Isle of Wight County Schools board members Thursday following the controversy.

The senior’s pre-recorded speech on mental health didn’t make the cut for the school’s virtual ceremony last month. The district said miscommunication at the school level led to the mishap.

The salutatorian, Mathis Kremer, gave a presentation about mental health education at the board’s meeting. A district spokeswoman said the superintendent will look into some of the student’s suggestions. 

Kremer shared his thoughts with school board members on how to help students better understand and communicate their mental health.

“It’s about promoting a culture of listening and caring for one another,” Kremer said.

Assemblies, a meditation room and excused absences for mental health days are just a few ideas he believes students can benefit from. 

“The students will be able to talk about it more,” Kremer said. “The stigma about mental health won’t be as great.”

Kremer was given the chance to address the board after his graduation speech on mental health — which he said he was asked to rewrite multiple times — was somehow omitted from the virtual commencement.

He got emotional during his presentation, saying his peers reached out to him after he decided to post the speech online.

“Just like everyone else, I’ve had troubles and I’ve seen my friends have a lot of troubles, too, so it touched me,” Kremer said.

Kremer’s parents also addressed board members. They said school officials told them the omitted speech was an accident although they believe it was deliberate.

“We received apologies individually but it would’ve been nice to hear an apology from the group at this meeting,” said Keith Kremer, Mathis’ father.

Superintendent Dr. Jim Thornton declined an on-camera interview with 10 On Your Side after the meeting. However, through the district spokeswoman, he said he appreciated the presentation.

The spokeswoman said the superintendent also plans to look more into a Yale University program called “The Science of Well-Being.”

It’s a course that covers mental health and it was one of Kremer’s suggestions to the board.

“I think if future students next year express a desire for mental health awareness and education then there will definitely be a change, but I think it has to be something that’s persistent and not just a one-time thing,” Kremer said. 

The district spokesperson also said the superintendent hopes to consider other possible programs for students moving forward. 

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