In this May 30, 2015 photo, one of three valedictorians, Emily Bruell, holds up a sign identifying herself as gay during commencement at Roaring Fork High School in Carbondale, Colo.
Colleen OíNeil—AP
June 3, 2015 12:52 PM EDT

Correction appended, June 4

A Colorado valedictorian used her high school graduation speech as an opportunity to come out to her classmates—and she got a much bigger response than she expected.

Emily Bruell, 17, a Roaring Fork High School graduate who is bound for Bates College, was interrupted by a standing ovation during her speech when she told the crowd, “In my [semester] away from Roaring Fork I realized something about myself, something more than what fit under [the label] SMART GIRL. I realized that I am gay,” the Glenwood Springs Post Independent reported.

Bruell then flipped over the sign she was holding up—which read “SMART GIRL”—to show a new label: “GAY.”

Even as she identified with these labels, Bruell also noted their limits.

“But you can also choose to give up the labels, to judge a person simply as a human,” she said as she concluded her speech. “This is our opportunity for a life without labels. Take it.”

The school’s principal, Drew Adams, read and approved the speech two weeks before the ceremony last Saturday. That response was very different from the experience of Evan Young, a senior at Twin Peaks Charter Academy High School in Longmont, Colo., who was stripped of his valedictorian status after he made similar plans for his May 16 graduation speech. The school principal there outed Young to his parents in the process, according to reports.

[Glenwood Springs Post Independent]

Correction: The original version of this story misspelled Emily Bruell’s last name.

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