GREENTOWN, Ind. - The commencement speech given at Eastern High School in Greentown, Ind., Sunday inspired some and irked others.
Social studies teacher Peter Heck gave the speech, which encouraged the graduates to put family first, but his comments about women in the workplace caused a stir:
"I challenge you to devote yourself to your families and your children. If you choose to have a career, God's blessings upon you. But I challenge you to recognize what the world scoffs at, that your greatest role in your life will be that of wife and mother. The greatest impact you could ever contribute to our world is a loving investment in the lives of your precious children. To solve the problems plaguing our society, we don't need more women CEOs. We need more women as invested mothers."
His remarks didn't sit well with some who attended the ceremony.
"It jumped out at me that he said they shouldn't pursue a professional career," said junior Corey Parton. "Maybe that's not how he meant it. Maybe he does want women to be successful and get a college degree, but it was a little out of place."
Student Zach Patterson's grandmother was not nearly as forgiving.
"My grandmother was dead-set against it," Patterson said. "She believes that women should work as hard as they can and still have successful careers in the workplace and not go back to the past where they are just housewives, basically."
In a phone interview with RTV6, Heck defended his comments and said he addressed the male and female students similarly.
"I was addressing both the ladies in the audience and the men, stressing to them that the most important role any of us will ever have is the role that we play in our families," Heck said. "I challenged the men by telling them that to solve the problems of our society, we don’t need more millionaire entrepreneur men. We need more men acting as fierce defenders of their wives and providers for their children.
"I was simply saying to the women as well that the most important role they will ever have… is investing in the lives of your children and raising them."
Heck added that he did not intend to discourage the female students from pursuing careers.
"If that's what those girls there in the audience want to do, by golly, that's what they should do," he said.
There were many in the audience who embraced Heck's message.
"It was good that he said that," said junior Marina Swaggerty. "Parents need to be there for their kids. Lately people are getting too into their jobs and not caring enough about their kids, and they are failing through high school."
Swaggerty's mother, Lisa Swaggerty, was moved by Heck's message.
"Our children at Eastern High School know they need to pursue a career, they need to be family-oriented. That is what this community is about," Lisa Swaggerty said. "I was very appreciative of the morality he talked about with the kids. I thought he was fantastic."
Heck was the senior class sponsor and, according to his website, is a conservative motivational speaker and a radio talk show host.
RTV6 reached out to Superintendent Tracy Caddell to get his thoughts on the speech, but he was not in his office and did not return our calls.
Follow Derrik Thomas on Twitter: @derrikthomas