Teen’s accusations in viral valedictorian speech may have been unfounded, report says
Nataly Buhr stepped to the podium clad in white robes June 6 and began a typically forgettable valedictorian speech at her San Ysidro High School graduation. Under sunshine, facing an audience of faculty and fellow students decked out in graduation robes and caps, she thanked her parents and her friends.
But her speech took a searing turn when the 17-year-old went off script, criticizing a school counselor and claiming that one of her teachers was an alcoholic who was drunk during class.
While the audience reacted to the speech with a blend of laughter, shock and discomfort, the real fallout of the speech came when the internet got ahold of it. Buhr’s speech went viral weeks later, gaining international media attention and lighting up social media across the globe.
Now, after weeks of scandalizing coverage, the San Diego Union-Tribune has published a piece addressing the allegations in Buhr’s speech, showing that preliminary investigations suggest her remarks were largely unfounded.
In her speech, Buhr was unflinchingly critical.
“To the teacher who was regularly intoxicated during class this year, thank you for using yourself as an example to teach students about the dangers of alcoholism,” Buhr said. “Being escorted by police out of school was a lasting impression. I hope that future students and staff learn from these examples.”
In her speech, Buhr criticized her guidance counselor for being consistently unavailable: “To my counselor, thanks for teaching me to fend for myself.” She noted that her success “had absolutely nothing to do with you.”
In statements to the media, Manuel Rubio, Sweetwater Unified School District’s director of grants and communications, has responded to the allegations.
While the statements in Buhr’s speech warrant examination, media coverage largely steered away from possible misconduct and inefficiency in the district, instead focusing on Buhr herself. The event became scandalized, drawing attention not only from local media, including the Los Angeles Times, but even from national outlets.
People weighed in on her behavior and speculated on her character. The Youtube video went viral, and the #natalybuhr hashtag was born, where the public lauded or condemned her actions.
An article in Forbes ran with the headline “High School Valedictorian Scorches Staff (And Maybe Her Career).”
Rubio said that in the weeks following the speech, the school was bombarded with calls from media outlets that numbered into the hundreds. The school even fielded calls from international outlets.
“It went viral in the biggest sense,” Rubio said. Most inquiries focused on the inflammatory nature of Buhr’s speech, he said.
“A lot of people didn’t take the time to ask about the allegations,” he said. “It was surprising that people weren’t addressing that more.”
Rubio reports that the district has responded to allegations and conducted a review, but has found no compelling evidence to corroborate Buhr’s statement. According to Rubio, several students came forward following the event and disputed Buhr’s criticisms.
The San Diego Union-Tribune’s examination of the claims found that the guidance counselor had recently lost her daughter to a hit and run, and had acknowledged that her grief had affected her performance.
According to Rubio, the teacher Buhr accused of drinking during class was experiencing verified medical issues that affected performance and behavior. In a response to a public records request from the San Diego Union-Tribune, the district stated: “It is the District’s perception that some students may refer to this event as a basis for a rumor regarding misconduct. On that date, this teacher was taken from campus to see her treating medical professionals. Subsequent information provided by the teacher to the District indicated that she was experiencing a medical incident on this occasion that has since been resolved.”
The district is planning no actions related to the teacher at this time, but notes that the teacher did obtain legal defense as a precaution. Both the counselor and the teacher will be resuming work, and classes are slated to start July 22.
In the meantime, Rubio plans to assess the mood of the student body and school staff when school resumes, and will arrange for support or outreach around the issues if needed.
“It’s interesting that something like this can polarizing, and that it can be at that level without all the information on the table,” Rubio said. “I don’t think that’s right.”
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