Canadian high school student Paul Gomille has recently found himself at the centre of controversy. Gomille wrote a Valentine’s Day letter to the young women of his Catholic high school in Ajax Ontario that ended up netting him a two day suspension. Here is the text. (The bold letters were not bolded by Gomille, but I will refer back to them in what follows.)
Could I please have your attention for a few moments? I guarantee you won’t regret listening to what I have to say. You definitely won’t regret hearing this in your life time, especially from a man of dignity. It’s an idea that I have held close to my heart even before the kilt controversy arose in the media. [A trustee had recently caused a stir by commenting that the young women were wearing their school-issue kilts too high above the knee.] This message is not meant to address the kilt controversy directly by any means, but rather, this message is a general and all-encompassing statement. It is a message about the qualities that really matter in a woman, and what really makes a woman attractive. Although this speech has some relevance to the way women dress and present themselves nowadays, the message in this speech goes far beyond one’s preferences, or feelings of pressure, as it relates to the way they dress, and it goes far beyond any concept of modernity. [sic? modesty, perhaps?] It strikes at the very core of humanity itself, in an attempt to make a revelation of truth apparent to all of you, with awe inspiring certainty. If you read this, and receive anything less than a feeling of absolution from it, then I have committed a grave sin, a sin against myself and a sin against all of you.
The people this message concerns are the young women of this school, and of the world. In particular, it concerns the silent ones, the intelligent ones, the ones that don’t talk about people behind their backs, the ones that guys don’t flock to in droves, the ones that don’t dress in revealing clothing, the ones who would love to be in love, and the ones that are continually disappointed in their appearance because the only thing they have to compare themselves to are the women that have been put on pedestals by our society. This message also concerns those of you who may consider yourselves the so called “opposite” to the demographic I just described. The ones who do dress in revealing clothing, and the ones who try to fit in with the crowd.
You don’t need to dress or act a certain way to fit in, to feel attractive, or to BE attractive. You’re all far more attractive than you realize. All of you. But that’s not to say that you should all dress in revealing clothing. No, not at all. Sure, a girl who dresses that way might turn a few heads, and get some compliments. But real attractiveness doesn’t come from wearing the latest fashion, and it doesn’t come from being scantily clad in public, or putting on make-up, or having a pretty face, or a nice body. No. Real attractiveness comes from having a certain dignity. It comes from having class. It comes from being true to yourself, being yourself, and being comfortable in your own skin. This message is for all young women within the sound of my voice and beyond. You’re all beautiful. You all have inner beauty AND outer beauty.
Now, to give the whole story, Gomille wasn’t suspended for simply writing this letter. He approached the school principle hoping to read it over the PA system. The principal was basically happy with it but felt that some of it lacked sensitivity (namely the bolded phrases above), and asked Gomille to alter those parts of the letter before it could be read over the PA system. Gomille declined and chose, instead, to distribute it by hand in the school cafeteria. He was suspended for “opposition to authority.” I’m sorry, but reading the letter over the PA system without permission (which would falsely imply the backing of the school administration) would constitute blameworthy opposition to authority. Handing out a letter privately does no such thing.
Now, I’m not saying Gomille’s prose is above reproach. Certain people could be justly offended by the bolded letters if they felt singled out by them. But does that justify suspending him from school? Which of us hasn’t done things much worse and avoided such penalties? What does his suspension say to the young people at the school? What does it say about sex? What does it say about beauty? What does it say about independent thinking? What does it say about freedom of speech?
Mr. Gomille’s letter wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty darn good. He’s 17, for goodness sake! He strikes me as a young man of integrity and obvious good intentions who needed perhaps a little guidance and advice from someone with a bit more experience. Instead, the Catholic school system won the praises of one Heather Mallick, a sure sign they made the wrong decision and sent the wrong message.
Brett Salkeld is a doctoral student in theology at Regis College in Toronto. He is a father of three (so far) and husband of one. He is the co-author of How Far Can We Go? A Catholic Guide to Sex and Dating.