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First Amendment Award Acceptance Speech

Joslyn Diffenbaugh, 9th Grade Student, Kutztown High School


Thank you Julia for the introduction, and thank you to the Hefner Foundation for honoring

me with this award. A year ago I never would have pictured myself on this stage. It brings up the question of how did an introverted 14 year old end up on the news, worldwide publications, and even standing on a stage to receive an award, fighting for the right to read? One of the reasons why I’m here today is because of the book I Am Malala. When I was in second grade, I read her book, and as a young reader it was inspiring to see a strong female activist stand up for not only her rights but all rights as women. It was amazing to see how only one person can make a big difference. 


Parents are encouraged to read to their children as much as possible and early as

possible. Research shows that the more kids are read to, the more prepared for school they will be. Starting in Kindergarten we were encouraged to read as much as possible in school and outside of school. Even in my elementary school, we had a program called rise and read, where the first 20 minutes of school were dedicated to reading. During the summer, the book bus goes around giving free books to kids, to encourage them to read. Our school district even has a partnership with firefly bookstore, so that kids can get at least one free book every summer. Reading is that important!


I was shocked when I learned that 850 books were being banned in the state of Texas

labeling them as dangerous and inappropriate. I have read so many of those books. I couldn’t understand how this could possibly be happening in our society. Despite what book banners are saying, books don’t turn students into racists, criminals, and a life of promiscuity. It was even more shocking to see how this trend of book banning trickled into our own small community portraying kids who read books as a danger. The narrative on reading has flipped and it’s mind blowing how the kids labeled nerds are now the kids labeled as dangerous. I myself have been called a hypersexualized political pawn because I read books.


We have a first amendment right to read and listen to the ideas of others. This book

banning movement is a direct attack on our first amendment rights. Book banning is the most widespread form of censorship in the United States. Parents and political groups that are working to ban books fear that the children will think critically, and raise questions about topics that they think are inappropriate, or are not able to handle. Every parent has the right to have a say in what their child reads, but no parent or political group has the right to dictate what others can and can not read. That is our First Amendment Right! We live in a large, diverse world, and the books that are being banned are the ones that give us an opportunity to walk in other people's shoes. There are books that help us learn about the past such as Maus by Art Speigelman and Apple: Skin to the Core by Eric Gansworth. These books give readers an insight into often shielded parts of history, such as the horrors the Jewish people experienced during world war two, and the mistreatment of native americans. They help us to understand the present like the book The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Parttime Indian by Sherman Alexie. Giving us insight into what others may be experiencing today.


What I am doing is helping change the future. As Malala has inspired me I hope that I

can inspire others. I hope that when other teens encounter their rights being taken away they feel empowered to stand up and do something about it. If a teen from a small town in Pennsylvania can make a difference then they can too. We are the future of this country and world and it’s our job to make sure that our generation and generations to come have access to all books. It’s important that all kids can find themselves in a book, learn about others from books and learn more about how our past affects our present so that we can make our future better.


I would like to thank Jordan Busits and Firefly Bookstore for coming along with me on

this journey, all my teachers encouraging my love of reading and my family for supporting me over this past year. Thanks again to the Hefner Foundation for honoring me with this award today. I promise that this is just the beginning.

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