Jaisaan Lovett of Rochester, New York, graduated last month becoming the first African-American valedictorian in his school’s history.
It was unquestionably a moment of immense pride for Lovett who, like other student valedictorians had done in the past, prepared a speech to deliver at the commencement ceremony for the University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men.
But for reasons that remain largely unclear, UPrep Principal Joseph Munno decided to rain on his parade by forbidding him to speak at such an important event of his life.
As per how things usually worked, past valedictorians get invitations to give a graduation speech. But in Lovett’s case, not only did he not get any such invitation, when he himself asked to speak, the principal reportedly said no without even bothering to hear what he planned to say.
“He didn’t want to see the speech or what it said, nothing,” Lovett said in an interview with The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “He just said no.”
The only reason the graduate could think of was the fact in the past he had a couple of bitter encounters with Munno and the principal apparently chose Lovett’s once-in-a-lifetime moment to get back at him.
However, there was someone else, someone way more powerful than UPrep’s principal who wanted to hear what Lovett had to say: Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren.
Turned out, Lovett worked as an intern in the mayor’s office and upon hearing what happened to him, she decided to give him a much wider audience for his message.
Warren invited Lovett, who will go on to study with a full scholarship at Clark Atlanta University, to deliver his speech at the City Hall. The video was posted to YouTube and shared on Facebook and Twitter.
This year, in which we recognize Frederick Douglass’ 200th Birthday, Jaisaan Lovett became the first African American valedictorian at UPrep.— City of Rochester NY (@CityRochesterNY) July 2, 2018
But he was denied the opportunity to give his address.
In this video, Mayor Warren gave him that chance. https://t.co/71q8PTN448
"Unfortunately, Jaisaan's school did not allow him to give his valedictorian speech," Warren said in the clip. "For some reason, his school — in a country where freedom of speech is a constitution right, and the city of Frederick Douglass — turned his moment of triumph into a time of sorrow and pain.”
"Jaisaan will never graduate from high school again. He will never get that moment back. This is not the time to punish a child because you may not like what he has to say," she added before handing the mic over to Lovett.
Lovett finally had the stage to himself and he delivered a heartwarming speech, where he sought to inspire others to succeed and thanked his parents, siblings and teachers for being there for him during his time at UPrep.
However, for his principal Munno, he had a different message.
"To Mr. Munno, my principal, there's a whole lot of things I've wanted to say to you for a long time. ... I'm here as the UPrep 2018 valedictorian to tell you that you couldn't break me. I'm still here, and I'm still here strong. And after all these years, all this anger I've had toward you and UPrep as a whole, I realized I had to let that go in order to better myself. And I forgive you for everything I held against you."
The university, which is regarded as one of the city’s best charter schools, took notice of the situation after the principal’s refusal and mayor’s intervention went viral.
The UPrep’s Board of Trustees issued a statement, indicating they were aware of the situation and unable to comment publicly due to privacy reasons.
Nevertheless, one cannot simply overlook the fact that someone who is in such a position of authority could be petty enough to harbor ill-feelings for a student and then let that personal animosity control such important decisions.
If it hadn’t been for the mayor, Lovett would have missed the chance of speaking his heart at an event which many students look forward to throughout their early academic years. He deserved to be there on the stage, he earned that right after years of hard work and it wasn’t fair to deprive him of an opportunity to shine.
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