Jaisaan Lovett of Rochester, New York, became the first black valedictorian in his school’s history. As graduation approached, he expected to give a speech at the commencement ceremony for the University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men, just as past valedictorians had done.
But for reasons that remain unclear, that speaking invitation didn’t come. And according to Lovett, when he sought permission to give remarks from the school’s president, Joseph Munno, the answer was no.
“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.”
Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren, for whose office Lovett works as an intern, intervened. Upon hearing what happened to Lovett, who will go on to study with a full scholarship at Clark Atlanta University, she gave him a platform to deliver his speech. Then she posted video of the speech to YouTube, and shared the post on Facebook and Twitter.
″Unfortunately Jaisaan’s school did not allow him to give his valedictorian speech,” Warren said before handing the mic over to Lovett. “For some reason, his school, in a country where freedom of speech is a constitutional right, and the city of Frederick Douglass, turned his moment of triumph into a time of sorrow and pain.”
Lovett then delivered his speech, which sought to inspire others to succeed and thanked his parents for supporting him during his time at UPrep. He also took a moment to address Munno, who he said he had clashed with in the past.
“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,” Lovett said.
As news of the school’s refusal and the mayor’s intervention went viral, the UPrep Board of Trustees posted a message on the school’s Facebook page indicating they were looking into the situation and unable to comment publicly due to privacy reasons. The school did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
“We are aware of the concern with the Valedictorian not speaking at graduation. The Board will be reviewing the circumstances regarding what happened and looking into the related guidelines and school policies,” the message states. “UPrep wishes Jaisaan Lovett, the first black Valedictorian in the school’s four year graduation history, much success as he continues his education at Clark Atlanta University.”
The UPrep ruckus comes weeks after school officials cut the mic during a valedictorian’s commencement address in California.
Petaluma High School senior Lulabel Seitz was abruptly silenced when she was about to talk about being sexually assaulted at school and the administration’s handling of her experience. She finished her remarks without a microphone at graduation and posted video of her speech in its entirety to YouTube.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story indicated Joseph Munno was UPrep’s principal. He is its president.