Before my senior year in high school, I never had any encounters with censorship or religious freedom tensions. This only began this past school year with prayer being taken out of school completely.
Also – and I don't say this arrogantly at all – I believe I had earned that time to say what I wanted to say to my senior class. I worked hard in school, and part of the honor of being valedictorian is the opportunity to address your class on graduation. A lot of people seem to think that the 52-second clip of The Lord's Prayer was my entire speech, but my speech was actually about nine minutes total. The rest of my speech focused on my graduating class and our shared experiences at the school. I did my best to recognize my classmates and thank others throughout the speech, and tried to keep the audience entertained.
CP: What has the reaction been like? Has anything about the feedback surprised you?
Costner: The reaction has been tremendous and I am blown away by all the support – from my family, from Fellowship Community Church and others I know in our Liberty community, and from people I've never met across the country. The responses have been overwhelmingly positive and I'm very encouraged to see others supporting prayer.
I have had some personal messages sent to me that are negative and there are lots of critical comments online, but many people just don't understand exactly what I did or why I did it.
I'm also surprised by all the media coverage and interest in this story. I had no idea that things would blow up like this, so after graduation I left to spend a week at the beach with my family. Now I'm doing all these interviews and getting requests to be on national radio programs, it's pretty crazy.
CP: Where do you feel God is calling you for your future college and career plans?
Costner: I am going to Clemson University this Fall to study Computer Science. Other than that, I'm not really sure what's next and I'm still seeking direction for the future.
I've already been contacted by fellow Christians at Clemson who watched the video of my speech, and that's been encouraging. I'm just honored and humbled that God chose to use me in that moment, and I hope he uses me as a witness at Clemson.
CP: Anything else you would like to say to our readers, or any misconceptions you want to clarify?
Costner: I want to emphasize that everyone should be free to say what they want. Just because I prayed to my God doesn't mean that someone else isn't allowed to pray to who they want or say what they believe. We should all have free speech.
Some people keep saying that I did this for self-promotion or that I'm using it for self-gain, but I never expected it to get this big. Our little town of Liberty, South Carolina has a total of 3,000 people and three red lights. I didn't expect anything to take off, which is why I came to the beach with my parents right after graduation. I never thought people around the country would be talking about it.
Finally, I wanted to make sure my heart was right before I delivered my speech at graduation, and I spent a long time praying about everything and seeking counsel from people I respect. I felt strongly led to acknowledge God in my speech, and I believe the prayer honored Him and He is using it for greater purposes now. I am grateful for everyone who has supported me, and I hope others will choose to take a stand too!