Free speech activist Mary Beth Tinker speaks at seventh grade class meeting


Tessa Augsberger

Mary Beth Tinker gives a presentation to seventh grade students about her First Amendment advocacy work.

Free speech activist Mary Beth Tinker spoke to seventh grade students about her activism, as well as youth movements, at their class meeting Wednesday. Tinker has been speaking at schools since 2013 as part of her Tinker Tour USA program, in which she promotes youth activism, free speech and free press.

Tinker is an activist who was the plaintiff in the 1969 Tinker v. Des Moines U.S. Supreme Court case.

Tinker’s Vietnam War protest as an eighth grade student in Iowa resulted in the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court case Tinker v. Des Moines in which the Court ruled 7-2 that students maintain their rights to free speech and expression at public schools. Tinker had been suspended for wearing an armband in protest of the Vietnam War.

History Teacher Joseph Makhluf, who contacted Tinker to organize the event, said seventh grade students learn about Tinker v. Des Moines in their required American History and Government class.

“It is important for students to know the rights they are entitled to under the First Amendment and the way in which Court cases have helped us understand these rights,” Makhluf said. “Students also learn about the civil rights movement in the last unit of the [seventh] grade curriculum, and [Tinker] discussed how many of the Civil Rights protesters were a source of inspiration for her when she made the decision to wear black armbands to protest our involvement in the Vietnam War.”

Tinker highlighted the importance of students utilizing their First Amendment rights.

Tinker said students should recognize their First Amendment right of freedom of speech and expression and speak up for injustices they perceive.

“Young people in all groups have needed to speak up for themselves and make their conditions better,” Tinker said. “Whether it’s African Americans, Native Americans, women, immigrants or even youth, all of these groups have used the First Amendment as a powerful tool to make things better, not only for [young people], but for the whole society. As young people, you should have a say about the things that affect you.”

The event culminated in a Q&A session with Tinker moderated by Makhluf.

Makhluf said he hopes Tinker’s words and actions empower students to take action to defend their rights.

“From the killing of George Floyd to the anti-Asian hate that is plaguing our country today, students may have a feeling of helplessness,” Makhluf said in an email. “I hope that today’s event shows them that they can be agents of change, and that small acts of civil disobedience can alter the course of history. Mary Beth Tinker’s small act of defiance shows us that you are never too young to speak out about issues you care about. It is important that young people know that they play an important role in upholding the rights that we cherish as citizens.”

Sophie Fribourg ’26 said she was interested in Tinker’s story and found her thoughts on students’ rights to be important.

“I really enjoyed listening to what Mary Beth Tinker had to say to us,” Fribourg said. “She explained all of the historic times she lived through in a very interesting way and I have a lot of respect for everything she did when she was my age. I think the way she encouraged us to use our First Amendment rights was also very inspiring.”