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Valedictorian denied diploma for saying 'hell': 'I'm not sorry'

An Oklahoma high school valedictorian who was denied her diploma for saying “hell” in her graduation speech said she doesn’t plan to apologize for using the word — and is ready to move forward with her life.

“Maybe I’ll never get my diploma and that’s fine because, you know, I have other things to work toward in my life, like my college diploma, becoming a marine biologist, becoming successful in my career,” she told TODAY’s Matt Lauer on Wednesday. “Those are things that are more important to me.”

Kaitlin Nootbaar appeared on TODAY the same day classes start at Southwestern Oklahoma State University, where the straight-A student will matriculate on a full scholarship.

Nootbaar’s graduation speech included a passage, inspired by a scene in a “Twilight” movie, that described her indecision over what career she eventually plans to pursue. In the speech she submitted to school officials, she wrote “How the heck do I know?”

But Nootbaar told TODAY’s Matt Lauer that she changed her mind repeatedly about whether to sub out the word “hell” and debated the issue with friends up until the very last minute.

“Right before I got on stage is when I talked it over with my classmates and the ones I talked to were like, 'No, go ahead and say it,’” she said.

She had no indication the school principal was angry over the speech until word began to leak out over summer. Yet, she heard nothing from school officials until she went to pick up her diploma last week and was met by the principal, who said he first needed a written apology.

The schools superintendent of Prague, located about 60 miles outside of Oklahoma City, issued a statement saying the student “used language that was inappropriate for a graduation exercise.”

Nootbaar said she’s not sorry for what she said in the speech and does not plan to apologize.

“I’m not sorry for that. I am sorry about other things, I’m sorry about the problems this has caused the school, especially the teachers,” who have been getting harassed by callers, she said.

Her dad, David Nootbaaar, told Lauer he backs his daughter completely.

“I wanted her to stand her ground. I’m a veteran and I feel that she has freedom of speech and that is in her First Amendment rights,” he said. “Why should she bow down to this man and give those rights away when some of the young men are laying their lives on the line to protect those rights.”

Kaitlin Nootbaar said the attention has been stressful, particularly as she prepares for college, but has no regrets. A TODAY.com viewer poll seems to back her up: 88 percent of respondents believed she should stand her ground, while 12 percent said she should apologize.

“The main lesson that I’m going to take away from this would be to always stand your ground no matter who’s on your side, who’s not on your side,” Nootbaar said. “Whatever you believe in your heart that’s true, you should stand up for that.”

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