Race & Identity
High School Refuses To Let Its First Black Valedictorian Deliver Grad Speech, So Mayor Gives Him Another Platform
Rochester's mayor picked up the school's slack by letting him deliver his speech on the city's YouTube page.
Jaisaan Lovett did everything right to become the first black valedictorian of University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men in New York.
But it still wasn't enough for his principal, Joseph Munno. Over the course of his high school career, Lovett had several run-ins with Munno, according to USA Today.
The Rochester-based charter school teaches boys and young men from seventh through 12th grades. It is regarded as one of the best in the state; however, the school refused to let Lovett speak last month because of his time as an activist.
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In one instance, Lovett led a five-day strike when the school wouldn't order needed safety equipment for a lab. Although he was denied the chance to address his class, he had another ace up his sleeve.
"There’s a lot of wrong things that go on at that school, and when I notice it, I speak out against it," he said in a recent video. "[Munno] is a guy that doesn’t like to be told 'no.'"
Lovett interns for the Rochester Mayor's Office. He has worked closely with Mayor Lovely Warren and grew a rapport with the city's leader. When she heard about the situation, she gave her top intern a chance to deliver his speech at City Hall where it would live on the city's official YouTube channel.
He took the offer and delivered a stern message to his former principal.
"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," he said.
"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."
Warren also gave Munno a tongue lashing for attempting to silence a bright student like Lovett.
"Jaisaan will never graduate from high school again," she said. "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."
Lovett will soon be attending Clark Atlanta University on a full academic scholarship. He plans to study video game design. And he's not the only high achiever in his family. His brother, LaJason Lovett, was salutatorian at UPrep last year and received a full ride to Morehouse College.
Watch his full speech below: