Lebanon High School sophomore Emily Gipson said it was difficult to comprehend the attention she received after her free-verse rant garnered more than 150,000 views on YouTube, as well as some disciplinary action from administrators.
Gipson, 16, posted her video, “Welcome to Lebanon High School,” on Monday evening after she recorded it after school hours in a classroom at school.
“I did record it after school hours,” Gipson said. “I did have permission by the teacher. It was a coach and another coach, and I approached them.
“I got a lot of positive feedback from students, but I was called out of class by my principal and vice principal. They sat me down and had a really long talk with me about it. They sent me back to class, but they pulled me out of class again fifth block, and that was when they told me about my punishment.”
Gipson said she received two days of in-school suspension due to the video.
“I was also told that if I posted more videos or took more action, I would receive out-of-school suspension,” she said. “…They gave me in-school suspension because they said I was trying to incite violence while on the school campus. I didn’t have any intentions to incite any kind of violence. Everyone sees my message their own way, and if that’s how they see it, then so be it.”
Lebanon High School principal Scott Walters said he couldn’t discuss Gipson’s punishment due to her right to privacy as a student, but he did talk about her video.
“In talking with Emily, because I met with her a couple of times, we talked about what she was trying to accomplish and what was accomplished with the video,” Walters said.
“Of course, she does have her right to free speech. What I did have a problem with was that it was videoed on school campus in a classroom without the teacher’s permission. It would have been better if she had done it at home and away from school.”
The content of the five-and-a-half-minute video features Gipson speaking out about issues such as suicide, student stress, bullying and more while in front of a whiteboard in a school classroom.
“The thing that prompted me to write the speech, a girl at Lebanon had committed suicide,” Gipson said. “The school put out an app called Stop It, and they put out on our school news video, and that’s when a lot of people made fun of them and laughed at them.
“My intent was not only to bring students together, it was to also let all of them know we need to do something, and the way we are all treating one another is not OK.”
A recent class Gipson took also offered some inspiration.
“I took a creative writing course this year,” she said. “We had a poetry section, and I was kind of good at poetry, so that kind of spurred on that it could be a way for me to make a difference.”
Since Gipson debuted the video on YouTube on Monday, it slowly started to generate attention at first. Once it hit other social media channels and began to be shared, the result as of Friday was more than 155,000 views and growing. Gipson was especially surprised by the attention it received.
“Never did I know it would ever get this big,” she said. “I heard so many times that it happened at my school, too. That’s why at the end, I bring it all together and say high school in general.”
The added attention also brought with it feedback in the form of comments from her fellow students and others – both positive and negative.
“There are heavy weights to wear in making a difference,” Gipson said. “Sometimes the negative comments give me feedback and make me grow and how I can be a voice for the most amount of people. It’s OK. They have their opinion, and I have my opinion. I like to read all the way through the bad comments and the good comments. I learn something from all of them.
“At the end of the day, it’s worth getting punished and getting some negative comments to know I’ve helped at least someone.
“It has gotten so many more views and so much more feedback, too. It’s almost as if every student in Wilson County Schools has seen it. I know it’s not that way, but I like to think of it that way. It’s not about getting in the newspaper or on television or anything like that. My whole point was to inspire people.”
Walters was also surprised to see the amount of feedback he received on the video. He said he received notes and cards from parents and students, who didn’t agree with the video, including a gift from one student who told him he was doing a good job. He said he fielded some calls from parents who were confused about the video because it wasn’t what their children come home and say about the school. Other parents have called just to ask how things are going at school.
“Teachers’ feelings are hurt,” Walters said. “Mine are, too. I take that personally, because that’s part of my job…There are things I and others can learn from it from another student’s perspective.
“I can appreciate the perspective of the video. Of course, she’s 16, and her perspective is going to be different from mine.”
Walters acknowledged the suicide a Lebanon High School student committed in October. He said the school provided resources in the form of grief counselors at that time and has since introduced more ways for students to report issues such as bullying anonymously.
Gipson, who moved with her family to Lebanon about two and a half years ago from Olive Branch, Mississippi, said she’s proud of the video she produced and felt more good than harm has come from it since it went live. She plans to make more videos like it in the future – just not at school.
“It has brought so many students together,” she said. “Girls who have never talked to me have messaged me and said they liked it. I’ve gotten some negative comments on the video, but mostly everything has been positive.
“I love making people laugh. It’s a blessing to see people smile.”