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Charlotte Amalie
Wednesday, June 29, 2022
HomeNewsArchivesOFFICIALS CENSOR STUDENT'S GRADUATION SPEECH

OFFICIALS CENSOR STUDENT'S GRADUATION SPEECH

The graduation speech of a St. John honor student was censored by school officials.
Julius E. Sprauve School Class of 2000 salutatorian Oswin Sewer Jr. wrote a message of two and a half pages. Three passages of the text the ninth grader carried to the podium Tuesday night and read to the audience seated in the Westin Resort ballroom had been obliterated with a "white-out" compound.
Oswin Sewer Sr. says his 14-year-old son's graduation speech was taken from him by a Sprauve English teacher Tuesday morning. The senior Sewer, himself a teacher at the school, said that in order to get the speech, he had to grab it out of the hand of a school official.
"I noticed them passing it around, and I went and asked them for it," Oswin's father said. "They wouldn't give it to me. I had to snatch it away from them. There was a lot of writing on it and apparently the English teacher was re-writing it."
One of the top-ranked student's deleted passages, near the end of the speech, read: "I was advised to deliver a positive message this evening. In doing so, I must let you know that I am troubled by decline in students' behavior and scholarship. During my ten years at Julius E. Sprauve School, I have never seen teachers' morale so low. Our classrooms are filthy, we lack drinking water and our physical plant is in need of care . . ."
Another deleted portion was a reference to Oswin's scores and those of some of his classmates on the national Terra Nova standardized tests when they were in the sixth grade: "Although some of us were ranked among the best in the nation, the news media only highlighted the low average and median scores and compared them with the scores of private prep schools. Very few people outside of the school knew that I had national percentile scores as high as 98 and a total score of 94."
The third deletion was of one sentence in Oswin's reminiscences about the various Sprauve educators who influenced him. Concluding a description of Culture Day fairs and parades at the school, it read: "I felt badly when those educational and fun activities ended with the transfer of Assistant Principal Mrs. Beverly January who always had our best interest at heart."
According to the senior Sewer, while he helped his son with his graduation speech, young Oswin wrote out of concern for his school. "It wasn't a political speech," his father said Wednesday. "It's just that he cares about his school. Being that the governor was there, it was a direct plea to do something about our school."
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull was in attendance at the graduation ceremony, along with St. John administrator Julien Harley, district schools Supt. Rosalia Payne, Sprauve School principal Shirley Joseph and other Education Department and government officials. All applauded as the honor student delivered the uncensored portions of his speech, a tribute to his teachers from kindergarten through ninth grade.
The final portion of the speech not delivered were these words at the end of the passage about the poor conditions at the school: "Governor Turnbull, Assistant Commissioner Michael, Superintendent Payne, as Larry Sewer said, we need care — care motivates our willingness to learn; care expresses love."
As Oswin left the podium, Turnbull offered him a handshake, which the teenager accepted reluctantly before sitting down. After the ceremony Tuesday night, the senior Sewer, who is also vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, St. Thomas-St. John Chapter, protested to the governor about the censoring of his son's address.
Sewer said Turnbull told him he would have to take his concerns to the superintendent. But Sewer said that as he and his wife, Laurel Hewitt Sewer, also is a public school teacher, approached Payne, she hurriedly left the ballroom with Harley.
Contacted at the Sprauve principal's office Wednesday, Joseph declined to comment, other than to call the speech incident "unpleasant." Payne, asked about the matter in her office at the Curriculum Center in Tutu Wednesday afternoon, said she had to leave for a meeting and declined further comment.
The elder Sewer said he preferred that his son not say anything to the news media about the situation.
"Each of his teachers, he trusted them," the father said of his son. "I didn't, but he did. I told him not to let that thing get out of his hand."
Laurel Hewitt Sewer reportedly now has the censored copy of her son's speech. Her husband said she is "considering her legal options."

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The graduation speech of a St. John honor student was censored by school officials.
Julius E. Sprauve School Class of 2000 salutatorian Oswin Sewer Jr. wrote a message of two and a half pages. Three passages of the text the ninth grader carried to the podium Tuesday night and read to the audience seated in the Westin Resort ballroom had been obliterated with a "white-out" compound.
Oswin Sewer Sr. says his 14-year-old son's graduation speech was taken from him by a Sprauve English teacher Tuesday morning. The senior Sewer, himself a teacher at the school, said that in order to get the speech, he had to grab it out of the hand of a school official.
"I noticed them passing it around, and I went and asked them for it," Oswin's father said. "They wouldn't give it to me. I had to snatch it away from them. There was a lot of writing on it and apparently the English teacher was re-writing it."
One of the top-ranked student's deleted passages, near the end of the speech, read: "I was advised to deliver a positive message this evening. In doing so, I must let you know that I am troubled by decline in students' behavior and scholarship. During my ten years at Julius E. Sprauve School, I have never seen teachers' morale so low. Our classrooms are filthy, we lack drinking water and our physical plant is in need of care . . ."
Another deleted portion was a reference to Oswin's scores and those of some of his classmates on the national Terra Nova standardized tests when they were in the sixth grade: "Although some of us were ranked among the best in the nation, the news media only highlighted the low average and median scores and compared them with the scores of private prep schools. Very few people outside of the school knew that I had national percentile scores as high as 98 and a total score of 94."
The third deletion was of one sentence in Oswin's reminiscences about the various Sprauve educators who influenced him. Concluding a description of Culture Day fairs and parades at the school, it read: "I felt badly when those educational and fun activities ended with the transfer of Assistant Principal Mrs. Beverly January who always had our best interest at heart."
According to the senior Sewer, while he helped his son with his graduation speech, young Oswin wrote out of concern for his school. "It wasn't a political speech," his father said Wednesday. "It's just that he cares about his school. Being that the governor was there, it was a direct plea to do something about our school."
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull was in attendance at the graduation ceremony, along with St. John administrator Julien Harley, district schools Supt. Rosalia Payne, Sprauve School principal Shirley Joseph and other Education Department and government officials. All applauded as the honor student delivered the uncensored portions of his speech, a tribute to his teachers from kindergarten through ninth grade.
The final portion of the speech not delivered were these words at the end of the passage about the poor conditions at the school: "Governor Turnbull, Assistant Commissioner Michael, Superintendent Payne, as Larry Sewer said, we need care -- care motivates our willingness to learn; care expresses love."
As Oswin left the podium, Turnbull offered him a handshake, which the teenager accepted reluctantly before sitting down. After the ceremony Tuesday night, the senior Sewer, who is also vice president of the American Federation of Teachers, St. Thomas-St. John Chapter, protested to the governor about the censoring of his son's address.
Sewer said Turnbull told him he would have to take his concerns to the superintendent. But Sewer said that as he and his wife, Laurel Hewitt Sewer, also is a public school teacher, approached Payne, she hurriedly left the ballroom with Harley.
Contacted at the Sprauve principal's office Wednesday, Joseph declined to comment, other than to call the speech incident "unpleasant." Payne, asked about the matter in her office at the Curriculum Center in Tutu Wednesday afternoon, said she had to leave for a meeting and declined further comment.
The elder Sewer said he preferred that his son not say anything to the news media about the situation.
"Each of his teachers, he trusted them," the father said of his son. "I didn't, but he did. I told him not to let that thing get out of his hand."
Laurel Hewitt Sewer reportedly now has the censored copy of her son's speech. Her husband said she is "considering her legal options."