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'Rambling, self-absorbed' graduation speech angers crowd

8:53 AM, Jun 4, 2010   |    comments
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Paula Noonan plugged along, either in oblivion or defiance of the catcalls and shouts to leave the stage.

The audience's reaction was brutal. So too, some say, was her speech. You can watch Noonan's entire speech by clicking on the video to the right.

"It was just going and going and going," parent Janice Holmes said. "It was a train wreck."

In a letter of complaint to school leaders, parent Cindy Grassi described the speech as "a rambling, self-absorbed discourse that confused and embarrassed graduates and their families."

Noonan's remarks at the May 27 graduation ceremony at Fiddler's Green touched on her love of swimming, a student's choice of footwear, her father's footwear at her graduation, a comparison of her life at graduation and her life today, her grandmother's life story, and an inspiring phrase imparted by her grandmother.

Uncomfortable laughter was heard nearly from start to finish. School leaders seated on the stage behind Noonan appeared to squirm and whisper to one another. At one point, several people in the crowd tried to interrupt the speech with air horns.

"I felt bad for the graduates," Nick Koelmel, who came to see a family member's graduation, said.

"It was just like, 'No, stop please, stop.' All she had to say was, 'I accept this class for graduation,' and instead, she did that," Koelmel said. "I was sitting so low in my seat. I was so embarrassed."

"It's just hard to describe if you haven't seen it. Because a lot of people's reaction is well so what, it's a graduation speech," Holmes said. "If you've seen it and you were there, it just wasn't right."

At times, Noonan seemed aware of the discomfort and growing anger of the graduating class and their guests.

"This is about you," she said, drawing a wave of laughter. "But I'm reflecting. Back to my graduation..."

"She's an elected official and it's the school district [she represented]," Holmes said. "I expected her to behave accordingly."

"I believe the graduates were owed an apology," Holmes said. "I think someone should step forward and apologize."

That someone is Noonan herself.

"I am sorry that my comments apparently did not meet my goal of the kind of message I was trying to convey," Noonan said Wednesday. "I tell you, if I could take that back, I would."

Speaking with Noonan, it is obvious she is mortified by what took place and the reaction of those in the audience.

"High school is a great place to learn humility," Noonan said, choking up. "And I guess that's what I'm learning."

Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dr. Cindy Stevenson wrote in an e-mail that "while each board member is invited to participate in graduations, their actions should not minimize the celebration of students' accomplishments taking place at graduations."

Noonan says she was trying to get across the message to students that the lessons they have learned in high school will stay with them throughout their lives.

For her part, Noonan says, she too has learned an important lesson.

"For the future," she said. "I will keep it very short."

(KUSA-TV © 2010 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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