A high school valedictorian in Dallas, Texas, says her mic was apparently cut off after she mentioned the injustice surrounding the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice during her commencement speech last weekend.
Rooha Haghar shared a video clip of her delivering her recent valedictorian address on Twitter on Monday. She can be heard saying, “...to Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and all the other children who became victims of injustice—”
According to the video, the Emmett J. Conrad High School student then abruptly stopped speaking before seemingly tapping the mic. She then returned to her seat onstage as the school’s principal, Temesghen Asmerom, walked to the podium.
Asmerom can be seen in the video giving a thumbs-up during Haghar’s speech after she paid homage to Rice and Martin, two young black boys who were killed before either of them could graduate high school.
George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Martin, was found not guilty in the death of the 17-year-old in 2013. Former Cleveland police officer Timothy Loehmann, who fatally shot 12-year-old Rice in 2014, was not indicted by a grand jury for the killing.
“I was like, ‘Wow, they really did this. They really went there,’” Haghar said about the mic cutting off during her commencement speech in an interview with The Washington Post.
The Dallas Independent School District, which includes Conrad High, released the following statement to HuffPost on Tuesday:
It is never our intent to censor anyone’s freedom of speech. Students have that right — Dallas ISD encourages it. It is Dallas ISD’s practice to review all valedictorian and salutatorian speeches in their entirety. The challenge the school faced in this instance was that the Valedictorian chose to share other remarks that were not prepared with administration’s knowledge. As a result, the principal made the decision to limit the student’s remarks.
Our charge is to ensure the rights of all students are respected and no one’s rights are infringed upon. In hindsight, we realize this decision may not have been reflective of the core values we teach our students, as we work to educate leaders of tomorrow. For that, we apologize. We appreciate our parents and community members partnering with us to strengthen student voices.
Haghar provided more background information on the incident in a statement posted on Twitter on Monday. The recent graduate claimed the school’s principal had advised her to remove the names of Martin and Rice in her speech prior to graduation.
“He told me those lines did not fall within the DISD [Dallas Independent School District] valedictorian speech guideline, which neither I nor any other student have access to,” she wrote.
She said the principal apparently told her to say “all the children” in her speech ― instead of naming Martin and Rice.
“When I asked why, he said I would be sending the wrong message to the graduating students, that message being ‘you will get shot if you are Black in America’ (according to him)” she charged.
Haghar later explained that she made a choice on the day of her graduation to recognize Martin and Rice as she initially intended, instead of reading her edited speech.
“I knew none of the consequences I could possibly face came even slightly close to what families of the victims have to live with on a daily basis,” she wrote.
Haghar, a refugee from Iran, told the Post that she did not believe her school’s principal’s intentions were “rooted in hate.”
She told CNN that she believes this incident could be a “learning opportunity” for the school.
Read the section of Haghar’s speech that includes mention of Rice, Martin, mass school shootings across the U.S. and the Iranian youth who face religious persecution below:
This article has been updated to include a statement from the Dallas Independent School District.