Jaisaan Lovett stood at the podium in his cap and gown, a gold-colored sash draped over his shoulders, and delivered his speech as the first black valedictorian in his charter school’s history. The venue was Rochester City Hall, and the audience has been the more than 9,000 views on a video posted to the city’s YouTube account on Monday.
Lovett indended to give his speech last month at the small graduation ceremony for the University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men in Rochester, according to the Democrat & Chronicle. But the school reportedly banned him from speaking at the graduation.
Lovett told the newspaper he believes the school’s principal, Joseph Munno, denied him the opportunity to speak due to personal hostility, after several years of confrontations.
He told the Democrat & Chronicle that he wasn’t asked to give a speech, and when he asked to speak he was turned down.
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“(Munno) didn’t want to see the speech or what it said… He just said no,” Lovett said, according to the Democrat & Chronicle.
Though Lovett was reportedly snubbed, a powerful ally gave him a platform. Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren let Lovett give his speech at City Hall. Warren has made history herself: In 2014, she became Rochester’s first female mayor in modern times, according to the city’s website.
Lovett addressed Munno in his speech after thanking his family and teachers, according to the video. “There’s a whole lot of things I’ve wanted to say to you for a long time,” he said. “I’m here as the UPrep 2018 valedictorian to tell you that you couldn’t break me, and I’m still here strong.”
In her introduction to Lovett’s speech, Warren acknowledged that the school didn’t allow him to speak.
“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 said.
The video was posted to the mayor’s official Facebook page. The reaction toward Lovett was congratulatory, and several commenters questioned why Lovett couldn’t speak at graduation. “This was awesome that you gave him this platform but (why) was he denied his right?” One user asked.
In a post on its Facebook page on Wednesday, the school said its board plans to review “the circumstances regarding what happened.” It added that it tried to connect with the mayor’s office, but the school’s call wasn’t returned.
In the comments section of the mayoral Facebook post, Warren said she called Munno but he didn’t call her back. “He and Jaisaan didn’t have a great relationship and it was his last chance to show him who was boss,” she said.
Munno didn’t respond to the Democrat & Chronicle’s request for comment.
Lovett is bound for Clark Atlanta University in the fall, according to UPrep. “See you in August Jaisann,” the college tweeted on Wednesday.
His valedictory speech isn't the only one getting attention. Destiny Brannon, a Texas high school senior, told the New York Times she believes her ranking fell to No. 3 because she was critical of the school district in her speech. The district denies this, saying a mistake was made when the grades were calculated.