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GW cuts number of grads allowed to give speech

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Just one week from graduation day, another controversy has erupted at George Washington High School.

Some GW students are unhappy with Principal George Aulenbacher's recent decision to limit the number of student speakers at graduation to two.

One student who has recently found herself at odds with the administration cried politics.

Senior Katelyn Campbell spoke out against a controversial abstinence advocate's presentation at the school last month. She later filed a lawsuit against Aulenbacher and the school board, saying Aulenbacher threatened her standing with the college she plans to attend in the fall because he wasn't happy with her public protests.

Campbell has gone to Superintendent Ron Duerring with her latest grievance.

She would have been one of nine students with "highest honors" to give two-minute speeches at the ceremony.

"I'm kind of frustrated," she said. "If I'd known from the beginning that it was only going to be valedictorian and salutatorian because that's just the way it was, it would be fine.

"But to have prepared my speech and put everything together and then find out a week before . . . It's just wrong."

County officials say the move is in line with a request from the school board last spring to reduce the length of graduation ceremonies throughout the county.

"Graduations have been getting longer and longer and longer," school board President Pete Thaw said.

"I don't object to anybody speaking, but the consensus on the board was that we would try to hold it down."

Mark Milam, assistant superintendent for high schools, was told to gently reform the ceremonies, which officials say have become lengthier and rowdier each year.

"We just want principals to be mindful," Milam said. "We want it to be really smooth and fluid so parents can get in and out."

There was no specific directive from the central office on the number of student speakers or the length of the speeches.

And Milam couldn't speak to Aulenbacher's apparent decision to wait until Wednesday, a week before the ceremony, inform the students. Aulenbacher couldn't be reached for comment.

Campbell said all the students with highest honors had been operating for weeks under the assumption that they would get to speak for two minutes, as is customary. She and others already had their speeches prepared; a few had them memorized.

The reforms in graduation procedure haven't met with criticism at other Kanawha County High Schools. But Clinton Giles, principal at Capital High, said his school hadn't elected to cut down on the number of speakers this year.

"Our students carry the program, and they are students who deserve that recognition," he said. "Ours is a regal, stately, dignified, steeped-with-pomp-and-circumstance occasion."

In fact, he said, this year's ceremony may last slightly longer than in previous years, if only because someone will read a notice from the central office on appropriate crowd behavior.

Contact writer Shay Maunz at or 304-348-4886.


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