Christian Bales was named the 2018 valedictorian of Holy Cross, a Catholic high school in Covington, Kentucky. He receives a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award in education for creatively and inspirationally exercising his free speech rights in delivering his valedictory speech after Holy Cross tried to suppress it.

Bales is openly gay and gender nonconforming. He was first asked to wear “appropriate male dress” to his graduation ceremony—namely, men’s pants and no makeup—to which he abided. But when the Diocese of Covington unfairly stripped him of the opportunity to speak at graduation, calling his speech “angry” and “confrontational,” and denying him time to revise it, he refused to be silenced. Following graduation, Bales delivered his speech outside of the ceremony with a megaphone, surrounded by students, faculty, and family. Bales’ speech was anything but angry and confrontational, and his positive message urged students to use their voices for good.

Bales’ story garnered media attention with articles in the New York Times and many other outlets. His commencement speech was posted in its entirety online and it’s now being shared with the world. An excerpt of Bales’ speech follows:

“‘The young people will win’ is a mantra that I’m sure many of you have heard if you’ve been attentive to the media recently. It’s a phrase adopted by the prolific Stoneman Douglas teenagers who are advocating for an agenda—our right to feel secure as humans. We frequently see these individuals behind a computer screen, and therefore we see them as a separate body from us. However, they possess the same capabilities as us graduates. As we enter into the real world, we must remember that we have a voice. Throughout the past four years at Holy Cross, I’ve learned how to utilize my voice to advocate for my beliefs as an ethical individual. I’ve faced opposition in a number of scenarios, but my voice continued to grow in intensity as I faced more adversity. Rather than allowing opposition to silence us, we must utilize it as empowerment. As long as we nurture our minds as youths, we’ll be able to be equally impactful as we encounter the world.


In my experience at Holy Cross I’ve learned that the best way to attain change is to be a visible example in our world, and we must plan to continue to utilize our voices in order to better the lives of all those we encounter.”

Bales currently studies biology at the University of Louisville in Kentucky. He is a student and activist with a drive for fighting institutional marginalization. His passion for defending the rights of the LGBT+ community, people of color, people of different religions, and other commonly ostracized groups remains intact.