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Oklahoma high school valedictorian denied diploma for using 'hell' in speech

PRAGUE, Okla. – An Oklahoma high school valedictorian who was denied her diploma because she used the world “hell” in her commencement speech doesn’t plan to apologize for her choice of words, her father says.

David Nootbaar said he is furious that Prague High School is withholding his daughter Kaitlin's diploma because of her use of the word during the graduation speech in May. “She has worked so hard to stay at the top of her class and this is not right,” he said. “She earned that diploma. In four years she has never made a B. She got straight A’s and had a 4.0 the whole way through."

School officials declined to comment. "This matter is confidential and we cannot publicly say anything about it," Prague schools Superintendent Rick Martin said in a statement to KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City.

David Nootbaar said his daughter was inspired by the movie “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" when she wrote the speech. “Her quote was, ‘When she first started school she wanted to be a nurse, then a veterinarian and now that she was getting closer to graduation, people would ask her, what do you want to do and she said ‘How the hell do I know? I’ve changed my mind so many times,’” he said.

He said in the written script she gave to the school she wrote “heck,” but in the moment she said “hell” instead. 

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During the ceremony, Nootbaar said the audience laughed and she finished her speech to warm applause. She didn’t know there was a problem, he said.

But trouble surfaced when she went to school to pick up her graduation certificate last week, her father said.

“We went to the office and asked for the diploma and the principal said ‘Your diploma is right here but you’re not getting it. Close the door we have a problem,'" Nootbaar said.

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He said the principal told Kaitlin she would have to write an apology letter before he would release the diploma.

Kaitlin doesn’t plan on writing an apology letter because she doesn’t feel she did anything wrong, her father said. He said her family stands behind her decision.

Kaitlin starts classes at Southwestern Oklahoma State University in a few days on a full scholarship. 

KFOR-TV's La'Tasha Givens and NBC News' Sevil Omer contributed to this report.


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