EXETER — By a school administrator cutting off his microphone and ending his speech before he was finished, Wyoming Area graduate Peter Butera feels his message is now being heard louder than he ever thought possible.
Butera, the 18-year-old class president and valedictorian, Wednesday said his graduation speech was intended to try to effect some positive change within the district with the hope that the administration would be more receptive to empowering students, thereby giving them a voice in the district.
“The whole point of my speech was to hopefully convince the district to change the token student government in place now,” Butera said. “In my four years as class president, it’s all be just for show. The students want to see that change to something real that teaches students leadership and responsibility.”
Butera said his main duties as class president were to decorate for dances, proms and semi-formals and to paint signs. He said he was never asked to do anything he would classify as that of a leader.
“The position of class president and other offices are supposed to breed leadership skills,” Butera said. “Instead, we were asked only to perform tasks that are not associated with leadership.”
Butera said when he did ask to take on a more leadership role, it never turned out the way he had hoped.
When the district instituted a dress code during his junior year — collared shirt and khakis or jeans — Butera said he asked to meet with the administration to offer student concerns.
“They wouldn’t listen to the students,” Butera said. “The dress code passed without any student input. We realized we had no voice in the school.”
Butera said the dress code issue is just one example of students being denied a voice.
“Whenever we asked why a decision was being made, we were told ‘because we said so,’” Butera said. “The administration never listened to what the students had to say.”
A message left with the office of High School Principal Jon Pollard was not returned Tuesday.
Wyoming Area Superintendent Dr. Janet Serino said immediately after graduation, she contacted Peter Butera and asked to meet with him to discuss his concerns.
“He and I both agree that this discussion will provide his point of view of his school and can be valuable in future decision making,” Serino said. “Other students have used these meeting opportunities and are always welcomed.”
Serino said she and Butera had discussed his concerns about the school dress code prior to the implementation and his comments were shared with the school board. She said he also previously spoke to the school board about his dress code opposition.
On Butera’s Facebook page, he offered a brief reaction to his speech being haled at Friday night’s commencement:
“Tonight at graduation, I gave a speech in hopes of improving the future of Wyoming Area. However, administration would ultimately cut the microphone, and that is exactly why I chose to give the speech that I did. Because there are many people of power at Wyoming Area who refuse to acknowledge any fault that the school may have. That is not how progress is made. The last words I was able to say were, ‘Hopefully this will change.’ By administration cutting the microphone, they effectively said that they will not change, and proved everything I had said in my speech to be true.”
Since Friday, Butera has become an Internet and media star. He has been interviewed by several national publications and appeared on ABC-TV’s Jimmy Kimmel Show, where he was allowed to complete his interrupted speech.
“All the attention has really strengthened my main goal to bring attention to the issues raised in my speech,” Butera said Wednesday. “I’m happy with all that has happened, but I won’t be giving any more interviews to national media outlets because they aren’t focused on what this is all about.”
Butera will attend Villanova University to study business.
Asked why he didn’t submit the speech he intended to give prior to the ceremony, Butera said, “I knew it wouldn’t be approved by the administration.”
Butera said he didn’t realize his microphone was shut off until Pollard tapped him on the shoulder and told him he was done.
“I just accepted it and went back to my seat,” he said, as students chanted “Let him speak.” Butera said, “The students believe what I said is true and they supported me for saying it.”
Butera said he will probably attend the next school board meeting, set for June 27 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium, but he probably won’t offer to speak. However, his father, Attorney Michael Butera, said he intends to address the school board.
“Peter will always be a Wyoming Area graduate,” his father said. “I’m a graduate of Wyoming Area and most of my family is as well. I also served on the school board. We all have a great love for the school district. However, the current administration is horrible.”
Butera said his son did what he did because he felt it was the right thing to do.
“The actions of the administration caused a kid like Peter to do what he did,” he said. “And for him to do it, it had to be very bad. And the reaction of the administration since Friday is even more horrendous.”
Butera said his son is very respectful and his teachers always tell his parents what a nice kid and good student Peter is.
“The other kids love him, the teachers love him and the non-professional employees love him,” Butera said. “The administrators don’t know who Peter is.”
When the commencement ended, Butera said he tried to talk to Pollard, but was rebuffed. He said Peter was not upset by what happened.
“By doing what they did, they proved exactly what he was saying,” Butera said. “They never let kids speak their minds. They just overreacted.”
Peter Butera said he hopes the school district’s administrators and board members consider what he was trying to say.
“I hope they all have learned that the students want and need to have a voice and they should be given the opportunity to do so,” he said.
Butera, who is ranked at the top of his class, said the feedback he has received from his fellow students has all been positive.
“This has brought a lot of attention the issues within Wyoming Area,” he said. “And that’s what my speech was all about.”
Reach Bill O’Boyle at 570-991-6118 or on Twitter @TLBillOBoyle.