FHS Community Divided Over Assembly Speaker

Nayeli Arellano, News Editor

The student body, along with teachers and staff, attended an assembly organized by the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) club featuring speaker Angela Marie “Bay” Buchanan on Monday, November 11, Veterans Day. Buchanan is a conservative political commentator who served under the Reagan Administration as Treasurer of the United States. She spoke about leadership, however, she made several comments that spurred controversy among FHS. She touched on topics such as abortion, rape, second amendment rights and feminism that some found inappropriate for a high school assembly.  

Some students were not expecting the topics Buchanan spoke on as examples of her talking points, and after the assembly, they felt the meaning of her message was lost. “The beginning of the speech was perfectly fine, but when she got into the controversial topics that’s where it fell for me,” senior Zoe Savage said. “I was it expecting it to be more about leadership.”

Senior Caroline Austin also commented on the event saying, “The whole thing sounded crazy. It didn’t make any sense. She used very inflammatory language that I would not use in a crowd full of students.”

Buchanan addressed the controversy she stirred within the school. “My goal is always to promote the exchange of ideas among young people. Debating the issues exposes you to different points of view, forces you to listen and openly consider positions you oppose, all of which [strengthen] your own beliefs. It is how young people begin a path toward strong and bold leadership,” said Buchanan. 

She added, “For a school to be afraid of bringing to the attention of their students differing ideas, or to fail to challenge their students to openly discuss their beliefs and to listen with respect to those with whom they disagree, is to abdicate their responsibility to educate. The students of Fauquier High School have been well-served.”    

There were also concerns over students who were told they couldn’t leave the assembly. Senior Melissa Lucas was one of these students. Lucas said she felt uncomfortable when Buchanan mentioned rape and incest and felt the need to leave the assembly. Lucas explained, “I got up and said that I was going to leave. [A teacher] asked me where I was going to go. I said ‘the main office’ and [the teacher] said ‘you can stand here and wait for a couple of minutes until it’s over.’” Lucas stayed for the rest of the assembly. 

 Fauquier County Public Schools issued an apology on Tuesday in response to concerns made by students and parents over the assembly. The apology read in part, “Moving forward, Fauquier County Public Schools will ensure that guest speakers adhere to School Board Policies. We offer our sincerest apologies for the outcome of this assembly and its impact on some of our students.” 

On Thursday, November 14, Principal Kraig Kelican addressed concerns over the loudspeakers throughout the school. He announced, “I take full responsibility and I apologize,” Kelican added, “My intent is to support our students at Fauquier High School.” In an interview, he shared that he believed the speech was to focus on leadership and community service. However, she made several comments that were not acceptable. He “felt in the beginning [that the speech] was appropriate. However, [Buchanan’s] examples were not appropriate.” Kelican says he is “more than happy” to speak to any student who has concerns regarding the assembly. 

He also responded to students’ comments concerning the assembly’s aptness for Veterans Day. He asserted that the event was not intended to be a Veterans Day assembly. He reminds students that the school did many things to celebrate veterans including having the choir sing the morning of Veterans Day. He also mentioned that on Friday, November 8, when the Freedom Riders visited FHS, the choir sang and the band played for them and students hand-delivered cards to them.

The idea for the assembly was born after several YAF members attended a YAF conference over the summer and heard Buchanan speak. Senior Nicola Tressler was one of these members. “We really appreciated her very impressive resume and her successes in her past,” Tressler said. She said it has been YAFs goal since Tresslers sophomore year to host a speaker at the school. “It took a lot of hard work to do it,” Tressler said, “[we hoped] for good publicity for YAF, but it didn’t turn out that way.” 

Tressler explained that Buchanon was bipartisan most of the time. However, she said many students missed the point. “We weren’t expecting chaos to come from this. We wanted it to just be a good way to get YAF out there. We didn’t want to push anything down [students’] throats, that was never our goal, that was never what we were meaning to do. I didn’t want it to come across that way, [and] I am remorseful about that.” 

Lily Paccassi was another YAF member that helped organize the event. She said it was an honor to have Buchanan speak at FHS. “I think a lot of people complaining about it weren’t paying attention. She wasn’t trying to convince anyone to do anything,” Paccassi said. “I think people need to pay attention before they whine.”

Assembly Video: https://youtu.be/h6WPe0ghrE4