High School Valedictorian Won't Get Diploma Until She Apologizes for Saying 'Hell'

Kaitlin Nootbar Refuses to Apologize for Graduation Speech
Kaitlin Nootbar

08/22/2012 AT 11:50 AM EDT

It's a clash of principles against the principal.

Kaitlin Nootbar may have had a 4.0 GPA, but a mere four-letter word – hell – used in her valedictorian speech is keeping the Prague, Okla., high-school graduate from receiving her diploma until she makes a public apology, insists school principal David Smith.

Appearing with her father David on Wednesday's Today show – after a viewer poll supported the teen for holding firm 88 percent to 12 (against the principal) – Kaitlin said she has "learned a lesson to always stand your ground."

The offensive word cropped up in her speech as the answer to a question about what graduates want to be in the future. Her response was, "Who the hell knows?"

And while Nootbar submitted her speech to school officials – who approved it – prior to delivering her address, she did admit on Today that she made a last-minute decision to say "hell" instead of "heck," as it had appeared in the version of the speech she submitted for approval.

A Father's Support

The change, she said, came to her thanks to the movie The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, in which during a graduation scene the speaker says, "Who the hell knows?" Her classmates also egged her on, she said on Today.

David Nootbar stands by his daughter. "I wanted her to stand her ground," he told Today's Matt Lauer. "I'm a veteran, and I feel she has freedom of speech ... it's in her First Amendment rights, and why should she bend down to this man and give those rights away?"

Prague Oklahoma School District Superintendent Rick Martin, however, stands by the high school principal, who told this year's top student that unless an apology is issued, he will not release the diploma.

Nootbar – who is set to enter college on a full scholarship – remains unfazed. She says she's sorry for the problems the situation has caused her teachers, but she is not sorry for using the word in question.

"The fact is," she says, "all the diploma really signifies are my achievements, and I know what I’ve achieved."

(To see the Today show's full interview with Kaitlin Nootbar on a mobile device, click here.)

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