His school canceled his speech after learning that he's gay. What resulted was actually awesome.

It's really unfortunate that he wasn't able to give this speech to his classmates, but now his words will reach so many more.

After four years of hard work, 18-year-old Evan Young was set to make the speech of a — until suddenly, he wasn't.

Young wrapped up his senior year at Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont, Colorado, with a 4.5 grade point average and the title of class valedictorian. As is tradition at schools around the country, he was granted the chance to give a short speech at the graduation ceremony on May 16, 2015.

But that's until school principal B.J. Buchmann told Young that he would not be delivering a speech.


Young was planning on outing himself as gay during his speech. School administrators were not OK with that.

According to the school, Young's speech was canceled in part because it "included references to personal matters of a sexual nature" and it wasn't "appropriate for a speech at a graduation ceremony."

It's always kind of frustrating to see anything related to gay people automatically labeled as being "of a sexual nature" and therefore deemed inappropriate for school. Do you think if a valedictorian thanked his girlfriend or her boyfriend during a speech it'd be labeled as a "personal matter" of "sexual nature"? Probably not.

Coming out during graduation ceremonies happens pretty frequently, actually. Here's an example from the same month, also in Colorado:


While all this is really not cool, it's not even the worst part: In addition to canceling Young's speech, Buchmann called his parents and outed him to them without his consent.

Seeeeeriously not cool. GIF via Giphy.

But thanks to "The Nightly Show With Larry Wilmore," Young got to give his speech and it was awesome.

It was funny, honest, and just overall the type of thing that will make you tear up — so long as your heart is not made of actual stone.

He runs through some of his "secrets," which touch on things like homework he didn't like and other small issues. The whole point was to build up to his big secret: He's gay.


Images via Comedy Central.

Now, it's just so sad that in today's world, someone's existence can be considered a "divisive issue."

Think about his statement: "I understand this might be offensive to some people, but it's who I am."

In what world should anyone or anything's existence be in and of itself offensive? Like, I'm not a fan of canned tuna, but I'm not like, "The mere existence of tuna offends me! Wipe it from the ocean so that I no longer have to share this earth with such a vile creature!" I simply go, "OK, yeah. I'm not going to order the tuna sandwich."

It's really that simple. Think of something in your life that you don't particularly care for in terms of music, food, or something like that. Now, here's the question: Do you devote time to stopping others from enjoying it? Or do you just go about your life? I'm guessing it's the latter.

Young ended his speech with a really simple request: Hug someone.

We all have to share this world and there's no point in trying to pretend that people don't exist. Young's speech wasn't of a "sexual" nature. It was just him being himself and the world could do a lot of good by following his advice.

Check out Evan Young's segment on "The Nightly Show" below:

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

True

Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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