ALLEGANY — A letter that addressed concerns with Friday’s commencement address at Allegany-Limestone High School was emailed to graduates of the Class of 2020 Sunday by district administrators and the board of education.
The letter, which was sent to the Olean Times Herald, reacted to a commencement address by keynote speaker Matt Bouch, a 1997 alumni of the school and current Chicago homicide detective. Bouch told the graduates, in summary, that their “freedom of speech and due process are under assault in this country and it should be alarming to all of you.”
Bouch, who could not be reached for comment Sunday, also said the “rush to judgement, the attack on people’s thoughts and opinions — when different from social and mainstream media — is setting a troublesome precedent.”
His comments appeared to reference the Black Lives Matter movement and its calls for expansive reform of policing in the U.S. after the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis.
In the letter to graduates, Allegany-Limestone officials said that while they had received positive feedback regarding the “student speeches, the format of the two ceremonies, and overall, the setting of the ceremony, we feel it is necessary to address some concerns, specifically regarding the commencement speaker and the message he conveyed during the graduation ceremony.
“It is important you know that the commencement speaker’s comments do not reflect or convey the opinions or views of the District or the Board,” the letter stated. “It was not the District’s intent for your commencement ceremony to include potentially divisive or political topics.”
The letter further stated, “Upon reflection, we recognize that District administration could have and should have done more to learn about the speaker and the message he intended to share. “Our process for selection failed in appropriate background checks, setting clear guidelines for appropriate messaging and approval of content. The District will address and revise these gaps for any future speakers.”
The letter added, “Allegany-Limestone CSD’s core beliefs include that ‘learning occurs best in a safe environment that respects the individual, values different perspectives, and encourages effort.’”
It concluded with, “We are committed to this belief and will continue to ensure that our school environment respects each individual and values all perspectives. The District wishes you all the best in your future plans after graduation.”