Student in BHS yearbook: 'It is not what I said'
It was September when a fellow Brainerd High School student asked 15-year-old Camryn what she thought of President Donald Trump.
At the time, Trump was the Republican presidential candidate during a heated election season. Camryn said she thought she was joking with an acquaintance when she responded with what she described as a "bad joke," and the quote that ultimately was attributed to her in the yearbook was not an accurate representation of what she actually said that day. Next to a photo of Camryn on a yearbook page, in response to "How do you feel about him (Trump)?" was a quote: "I would like to behead him. I do not like him."
"I was feeling very terrified and confused definitely, when I first saw that yearbook quote, because that is not a direct quote," Camryn said in a phone interview. "It is not what I said, and I did not even know I had a chance to get into the yearbook."
Camryn—whose last name the Brainerd Dispatch is withholding—became the center of a social media firestorm Friday when a photo of the yearbook page spread as far as actor Scott Baio, most famous for his role as Chachi Arcola on the sitcom "Happy Days."
Baio, who boasts 194,000 Twitter followers, shared an unedited photo of the page, showing the full names and photos of Camryn as well as the other students who responded to the question. Baio is an outspoken supporter of Trump, and his profile photo shows he and the president together with their thumbs up. Baio has since removed the tweet.
Camryn said she deactivated all of her social media accounts when she realized how angry people were with the comment.
"It blew up," Camryn said. "Actor Scott Baio posted it on his Twitter. I would be fine with that, I mean, be passionate about your issues. If it had been true, if the quote had been true, I would have no problem with it. I would own what I said. Because I'm someone who owns what I say and admit when I'm wrong, but that was not a direct quote and I did not know I was going to be in the yearbook."
Camryn said when the student asked her what she thought of Trump, she responded she didn't like him. The student prodded her to elaborate on her response, Camryn said.
"I just thought this was her joking with me or something. I said, 'Well, I'm sure we all wouldn't mind if he got beheaded,' or something like that. And then I laughed, and she laughed," Camryn said.
At no point in this conversation did the student explain to Camryn she was asking the question for the yearbook, Camryn said.
"Had I been approached in a formal manner and said, 'Hey this is for the yearbook, what do you think of Trump?'—all the other students in that section had very well constructed responses—had I been given the chance, I would have said something way more respectful and way more intelligent than what I said," Camryn said. "But I was not given that chance. And people are now thinking that I am some unintelligent Islam wannabe. That's what everyone is saying, that I want to be Muslim because of the beheading thing."
Camryn said the election as a whole was a running joke on social media, and was a common topic of conversation among students in a satirical manner.
"Explaining to adults, memes and the internet and how it works, is nearly impossible," Camryn said. "Not because they don't have the ability to grasp it, but because they'll never be able to fully understand it. ... His (Trump's) whole campaign had been made a joke. When he first announced he was running for president, we all thought it was a joke. When he was elected, we all thought it was a joke. That whole thing has been made such a joke on social media."
Camryn also responded to a related online rumor, that she'd posted videos of herself calling for Trump's beheading on YouTube. Camryn deactivated this account as well in the wake of the attention.
"I think I mentioned that I didn't support Trump in a couple of videos, but I never said anything that I wanted to hurt him," Camryn said. "I made fun of his appearance, like calling him orange or something. But nothing that would be considered threatening or anything other than comedy. Good, clean, not harmful comedy."
Dad supports daughter—and Trump
Camryn's father Bob first learned of the intense social media backlash when a Brainerd police officer called him. The officer explained to Bob threatening comments were posted online about his daughter and their family, and the officer wanted to assure the family was safe. Bob and Camryn happened to be out of town on a fishing trip.
"We're up here kind of in the middle of nowhere, so we've kind of been away from the eye of the storm," Bob said. "We were going to go back today (Sunday), but we're not. We're going to wait another day. Cam won't be at home alone. I'm going to be taking off some work, just so she doesn't have to be there alone, until we figure stuff out and what's going on."
Bob said although he'd intentionally stayed away from news stories and social media comments concerning his daughter's yearbook appearance, he was overwhelmed by some people's reactions.
"I think they're leveling attacks at us without really fully understanding the situation," Bob said. "Kind of a knee-jerk reaction. Turn on the news now and it's just one side accusing the other side of this and that, and it's a mess. It's really a mess right now, and this a reflection of that."
In response to those questioning his parenting, Bob said he's always allowed his daughter to have her own opinions, even when they don't match his own.
"She's always had her own opinions, and I'm not going to tell her not to be opinionated, but I think it was just more joking than anything," Bob said. "She obviously doesn't like Donald Trump, but she didn't get that from me because I'm a Trump supporter. So it's her own opinion and she's entitled to that, and I think it just got a little blown out of proportion."
School district response
Camryn said she's not upset with anyone involved, and feels bad the school district is facing criticism as a result of the yearbook page. Camryn no longer attends Brainerd High School—she said she switched to online classes in February after suffering from depression—but still offered appreciation for the school.
"It (Brainerd High School) does value learning and education, and it does do a really good job at that," Camryn said. "They have a lot of good opportunities, and the yearbook being one of them. I feel bad that this now is tainting the image of the yearbook, and the yearbook committee and the teacher who runs it. Because it is a great program.
"It gives students the opportunity to understand freedom of speech, and I think that was the idea behind it. I think that's why the teacher doesn't micromanage everything. Whether he should or shouldn't is a debatable question. ... In my opinion, he shouldn't have to go over it detail by detail by detail. He trusted the students that there was going to be no beheading in the pages and there was a beheading in the pages. Even though that's not what I meant."
The school district released a statement apologizing for the yearbook page on its website Friday, stating the administration was unaware of the statements included: "The district does not support or otherwise endorse any disrespectful or politically based statements that are in the yearbook and apologizes for the statements that were included.
"While the district supports free speech, the disrespectful statements in the yearbook are contrary to the basic educational mission of the district and should not have been included in a school-sponsored publication."
Superintendent Laine Larson said Friday she did not know what the existing editing process was for the yearbook, and the administration was investigating how the statements were allowed to be printed. The yearbook adviser, Joe Wagner, did not return calls for comment Friday.
"The administration deeply regrets that the existing processes for reviewing the yearbook did not result in the removal of the inappropriate statements," the district's statement went on.
Jeff Peterson, vice president of marketing for Jostens, said the yearbook publishing company can offer full-page stickers to cover up the offending page. Peterson said it's up to the school whether they choose to recall the yearbooks and apply the stickers, or whether they hand the stickers out to students to apply themselves.
Peterson said the handling of refunds would be up to the school district. Yearbook costs range from $50-$60 depending on when students order the books. If a family or a student would like to return their yearbook, the district will refund their money, Larson said.