On June 11, Lulabel Seitz had the opportunity to address her fellow classmates and her larger high school community during a speech at her graduation ceremony. But when the valedictorian from Petaluma, California, began to reference her on-campus sexual assault, her mic was unexpectedly cut.
Seitz, who was assaulted by someone she knew at her school, had intended to use her platform to express her frustration towards the administration for failing to act on her behalf. She alleges that administrators had not properly addressed her assault and had not leveled any sanctions against the perpetrator—and she knew they would be in attendance at commencement.
Seitz attempted to continue her speech without amplification, as her classmates and audience members chanted “let her speak” in a show of support. She remained on stage and finished her speech, despite having her message physically deterred. She later posted footage to YouTube of her mic being cut, as well as the complete speech without interruption, in a video she ended with a quote by Malcolm X directed at her former principal: “A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything.”
The administration claimed that they cut the mic because Seitz had deviated from her scripted speech—and that it was within their legal right to do so in order to ensure that the commencement remained “appropriate and beautiful.” But according to Seitz, administrators had specifically instructed her “not to mention how they handled my sexual assault case and other sexual assault cases in general.” Seitz has since pushed back, calling their decision a violation of her freedom of speech.
Disallowing a student from speaking because her experience is inconvenient to the agenda of the administration demonstrates that the welfare of sexual assault survivors was not the priority for Petaluma High School administrators. It doesn’t take much to put two and two together and realize that Seitz’s muted text contained a damning truth that the administration did not want to acknowledge.
Seitz’s experience represents another instance in a long history of women being silenced when speaking about sexual violence—but it also serves as a powerful reminder of the impact of persistent women demanding to be heard. Seitz spoke truth to a power that actively sought to take her voice away, and in the process drew attention from around the world to her call for action.
Seitz graduated with an exemplary GPA between 4.6 and 4.7 and three years of college already completed. She plans to attend Stanford University in the fall.