Valedictorian and class president Zander Moricz was asked by the administration at Pine View School in Osprey, Florida, to do the graduation speech, but under one rule: He couldn't say the word gay.
Nor was he allowed to mention his activism -- a role as the youngest plaintiff in a lawsuit against Florida's law that restricts what educators can say in schools about topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity.
A difficult spot to be in, Moricz knew that if he said "gay," his mic would be cut. But failing to mention that part of identity and his involvement in the LGBTQ+ community would feel disingenuous.
Moricz is no ordinary 18-year-old. He gave the speech without saying the word. He followed the principal's rules. Instead of saying "gay" he spoke about "having curly hair."
It was a brilliant use of a metaphor that was covert but still candid. "I used to hate my curls," Moricz said.
"I spent morning and night embarrassed of them trying to straighten this part of who I am, but the daily damage of trying to fix myself became too much to endure," he continued. "So while having curly hair in Florida is difficult due to the humidity, I decided to be proud of who I was and started coming to school as my authentic self."
Regardless of Moricz's age, it's a brilliant moment of leadership. Today's adult leaders in organizations should follow suit.
Stand by your principles (not your principals)
At work, as in life, sometimes the higher-ups will state the rules for you to follow. Rules that are arbitrary -- based on appeals to authority or institutional pressures or "just how things are done around here."
It's difficult to act out according to our principles, especially when we're up against powers-that-be. The risks can seem great. But psychology research suggests that having such personal integrity is good for individual well-being and social regulation. The reward is even greater than the risk.
Don't be afraid to be a rebel
According to Harvard professor Francesca Gino, the rebels in organizations aren't the contrarians and outcasts we assume them to be. Rather, they're the innovators and inventors who amaze us, the people who skillfully carve a path for themselves going around the status quo.
These are the people -- the leaders -- who get stuff done. As Gino says, being a rebel talent will "show you how to succeed -- by breaking all the rules."