The salutatorian's speech about intolerance in high school brought him criticism at home, but dozens of people elsewhere have written to cheer him for a rare expression of courage and individuality.
Gary Christensen says he has received 28 letters from 41 people in seven states supporting his speech and Principal John Balber, who allowed Christensen to give it. Balber says he and the school board have also received supportive letters.About 40 West Yellowstone residents complained to the board that Christensen's speech spoiled the graduation ceremony, and they asked the board to set limits for student speeches. Some said Christensen's scholarships ought to be revoked.
The letters began after newspapers around the country reported the controversy. They came from teachers and former teachers, doctors and other professionals, and people who said they too had survived intolerance when they were in high school. All blasted his critics.
The school board will discuss the request to set criteria for student speeches at its regular meeting Tuesday night.
Christensen, 17, told his 15 classmates and townspeople at the ceremony he survived years of intolerance from classmates because he had "dared to be different."
A straight-A student, Christensen did not play in sports in a community where sports are emphasized. He wears his hair longer than most local teens and is partial to black leather.
Christensen received scholarships from four community organizations and Boise State University, which he will attend in the fall. He was also the only student from Montana selected to attend a prestigious symposium on supercomputers at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory in Livermore, Calif.
Several letter writers said intolerance is typical of small towns and of Montana.
Marty Weaver, a member of the Bozeman School Board, congratulated Christensen for taking an "uncool route," and wrote, "In Montana, you, unfortunately, get the kind of backlash I just read about . . . There's a more accepting world out there that values people like you."
Gloria Aubrecht of Littleton, Colo., read about the speech in the Denver Post and wrote that she admired Christensen's ability to "rise above the standards of the day."