Jaisaan Lovett, who became the first black valedictorian of the all-male University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men last month, in Rochester, New York, was barred from giving the traditional valedictorian speech at his high school graduation by the principal, Joseph Munno, with whom Lovett had a rocky relationship with.
According to USA Today, Lovett said that he had not been asked to deliver a speech, even though past graduates were asked. He asked to deliver one anyway but Munno said no without even asking to see it. During his six years at the school, Lovett has had a number of incidents with the principal. Last year, for example, Lovett led a five-day student strike after the school refused to order safety equipment for a lab.
"There’s a lot of wrong things that go on at that school, and when I notice it I speak out against it," Lovett said. “[Munno] is a guy that doesn’t like to be told 'no.'"
Lovett’s speech would never have been delivered if it wasn’t for Mayor Lovely Warren, who Lovett knows because he interns in her office. She invited him to deliver the speech at City Hall, which she later posted to the city’s official YouTube channel and her Facebook page.
"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,” Warren said in the video.
"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,” Mayor Warren added.
Lovett’s speech would have focused on thanking his parents, siblings, and teachers, although he did include a section dedicated to Munno.
"To Mr. Munno, my principal, there's a whole lot of things I've wanted to say to you for a long time,” he said in the video. “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 continued, “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,” he continued. “And I forgive you for everything I held against you."
In a comment on Facebook, Mayor Warren added that neither “he nor his parents were ever given a reason” as to why Lovett couldn’t give his speech. “I called the principal but to my knowledge he never called me back. He and [Lovett] didn’t have a great relationship and it was his last chance to show him who was boss,” she wrote. “He worked hard for this opportunity and his mom and dad were in tears that there was nothing that they could do from the audience. They weren’t going to ruin it for everyone else."
Lovett graduated with a full academic scholarship to Clark Atlanta University, where he plans to study video game design.