Lulabel Seitz, a 17-year-old graduating senior at Petaluma High School, was perusing speeches online the night before her graduation when she found a poignant quote by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.” The quote inspired Seitz to speak about being sexually assaulted by a fellow student multiple times during school hours last fall.
Seitz said Petaluma High School knew about the assault and police took action, but the boy continued to go to the same school and attended graduation. “They don’t really do anything to the perpetrator,” she told BuzzFeed, adding that other female classmates had experienced similar treatment.
When pressed for comment, Petaluma school officials sent BuzzFeed a press statement:
Administrators and staff in Petaluma City Schools care deeply about the safety and well being of our students. Due to student privacy issues, we cannot and should not respond with specific information. We can say that when issues of sexual assault come to our attention, local law enforcement has initial jurisdiction and determines the course of action.
If an alleged event happens off campus or on, we work to support our students with appropriate discipline, extensive counseling, and whatever measures we can take to protect our students while they are in our learning environment.
Prior to graduation, Seitz said she had to submit a draft of her speech to school administrators for approval and that they would not allow her to address any negative issues. She had already planned to mention a teachers’ strike from last year and wanted to address her school’s treatment of assault victims without naming her harasser. Apparently, administrators learned of her intentions before graduation and warned her against mentioning sexual harassment onstage.
“They pulled me out of my last class in high school to say, ‘You can’t speak about how we treat sexual assault victims,'” Seitz told BuzzFeed.
Yet on graduation day, Seitz soldiered on with her original speech—sort of. The valedictorian—who regularly participates in speaking competitions—found no written copy of her speech at the podium as she had been promised, so she delivered it as much as possible from memory. When she began to segue into the sexual assault issue, administrators cut her microphone.
“The class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a newer generation, but we are not too young to speak up, to dream, and to create change. Which is why, even when some people on this campus, those same—” Seitz said before the mic went dead, prompting the audience to chant, “Let her speak!”
Seitz said the school principal told her that her speech was over, to which she responded with a Malcolm X quote: “A man who stands for nothing, will fall for anything.”
David Rose, the assistant superintendent for student services at Petaluma City Schools, refuted Seitz’s version of the story, telling BuzzFeed: “Many of the assertions that Ms. Seitz is making do not match our perspective.”
After the ceremony, Seitz—who will attend Stanford University next year—shared the complete version of her speech on YouTube. In the video, she delivers the truncated line about sexual assault as she originally intended: “Learning on a campus in which some people defend perpetrators of sexual assault and silence their victims—we didn’t let that drag us down.”