Nebraska High School Picks O.J. Simpson For Inspirational Quote

Although some were certain it had so be a senior prank, a high school east of Lusk, Wyoming, chose a statement by O.J. Simpson as the inspirational quote in its commencement announcement. Turns out, it was approved at the highest levels.

Jimmy Orr

May 11, 20244 min read

Hay springs school
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

It’s not that the quote itself is controversial, it’s who said the quote.

A small high school about 100 miles east of Lusk, Wyoming, raised some eyebrows this past week for its Class of 2024 graduation announcement, which prominently features an inspirational quote from O.J. Simpson.

“The day you take complete responsibility for yourself, the day you stop making excuses, that’s the day you start to the top,” is the quote, and it’s credited to O.J.’s full name — Orenthal James Simpson.

The quote and the photo of the 19 graduating seniors of Hay Springs High School in Hay Springs, Nebraska, is on the front page of an extra edition of the local newspaper, the Sheridan County Journal Star.

The edition was promoting the commencement of the graduating class, which was held Saturday.

'Is This For Real?'

One former Cheyenne resident, who now lives in the Hay Springs area, thought the choice of O.J. Simpson was a bit unusual.

Shannon Smith, who ran the Wyoming Humanities Council from 2013-2020, posted a photo of the flyer on her Facebook page along with the statement, “It’s a great graduation sentiment, but…”

Of course it brought up a lot of responses. Many were absolutely certain it had to be a senior prank. While others thought the students — because of their age — probably didn’t know who he was or their faculty advisor was just asleep at the wheel.

Smith told Cowboy State Daily on Friday that she was “baffled” by it because she understands they have a “really solid school system.”

“They have a good faculty,” Smith said. “If it was intentionally done, they must have had a conversation and thought it through, because I just can’t imagine that they don’t know who he is.”

All Approved

Smith was right. It was thought through and approved at the highest levels, including by the superintendent of the school district, George Clear.

“Our senior class chose their quote. It was approved by administration, including myself,” Clear told Cowboy State Daily on Saturday.

“I support my students engaging in a class vote and choosing their senior quote as they did,” Clear said. “I support the use of the quote in the commencement announcement.”

Ditto for the faculty advisor, Paula Holtmeier. 

She said the students “liked the quote,” so they picked it.

"They weren’t born when O.J. became notorious. It is not about the author, it is about the quote,” Holtmeier said.

Hay springs closeup 5 11 24
(Cowboy State Daily Staff)

Not A Prank

So, scratch the student prank theory. Everyone was involved in the decision, she said in a later email.

“There was discussion, both with the seniors and with administrators,” Holtmeier said. “The decision was that it is about the quote, not the name.”

“It is too bad that he didn’t live by it!” she added.

It took Greg Heiting, the school board president for Hay Springs Public Schools, by surprise.

“I had no idea,” Heiting said Friday, answering the phone while he was out planting corn.

No matter. He supported it anyway. He texted Saturday that, “We support our administration’s decision.”

Smith’s friends were still aghast, however.

“Apparently the editor was a Gen Zero and didn't realize that Orenthal James is O.J. — who never took responsibility for what he did,” Birch Tysko said.

Another made the observation that the better-known O.J. quote — although it's more of an O.J.-adjacent quote is, "If it doesn't fit, you must acquit."

No word if that quote was ever discussed, however.

Voltaire, Plato, Simpson

Back in Cheyenne, Mike Moser, one of the most well-known lobbyists in Wyoming and a graduate himself of Hay Springs High School, said he would not have chosen O.J. for this role.

“I would have never put O.J. Simpson in the same category or inspirational category as luminaries such as Voltaire, Plato or even Tom Osborne,” Moser said. “But O.J. Simpson? Really? He didn't even play for the Huskers.”

Jimmy Orr can be reached at

Share this article



Jimmy Orr

Executive Editor

A third-generation Wyomingite, Jimmy Orr is the executive editor and co-founder of Cowboy State Daily.