A School Wouldn’t Let Its Black Valedictorian Speak, So The Mayor Spotlighted Him, Instead

When Jaisaan Lovett became his Rochester, New York school's valedictorian, he expected to deliver a speech at the graduation ceremony. But despite being the school's first black valedictorian, Jaisann Lovett couldn't deliver his speech; after not receiving an invitation, he sought permission from the school's principal and was turned down. However, Rochester Mayor Lovely Warren subsequently gave Lovett a platform to deliver his remarks, and posted a video of his speech to social media.

Lovett attended the University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men, where past valedictorians have typically delivered speeches during commencement. In an interview with the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, Lovett alleged that the school's founder, Joseph Munno, refused to see the speech before denying his request to speak. Lovett believes that Munno made this decision out of personal animosity, but he was nonetheless able to deliver his speech when Warren stepped in.

Warren, for whose office Lovett is an intern, invited the valedictorian to City Hall to deliver his speech. She also filmed his remarks, and posted them to the city's official YouTube channel.

"Unfortunately, Jaisaan's school did not allow him to give his valedictorian speech," Warren said prior to Lovett's remarks. "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."

As Warren noted in her introductory remarks, Lovett is headed to Clark Atlanta University this fall on a full scholarship. She also indirectly criticized UPrep for appearing to punish Lovett, insinuating that the school didn't allow him to speak because they didn't like what he had to say. Warren then introduced Lovett, who opened his speech by acknowledging that he became the school's first-ever black valedictorian after spending six years there.

Lovett then went on to thank his parents for ensuring that he had a good education, for being there for him, and for encouraging his curiosity. He also gave shout-outs to his brothers, sister, and his friends, as well as to one of his teachers and members of the school administration. Lovett concluded his speech by encouraging members of his community to reach out to him if they ever needed support.

"I'll be a couple states away but I'm going to be back in town on breaks and if y'all need something, then call me," Lovett said.

Lovett concluded his speech with a message to Munno, and made it clear that this speech had a greater impact than he initially realized:

It's a whole lot of things that I've wanted to say to you for a long time. As a matter of fact, I wasn't going to give this speech at all, but then I realized something. I realized that this speech is about more than just me. It means a lot to everybody that I mean a lot to, and I'm here as the 2018 UPrep valedictorian to tell you that you couldn't break me, and I'm still here. I'm still here strong. And after all these years, all this anger I had towards you and UPrep as a whole, I realize that I have to let that go in order to better myself, and I forgive you for everything I held against you.

As Lovett's graduation speech and the circumstances surrounding its delivery went viral, UPrep addressed the controversy on its Facebook page. The school said that it was looking into why Lovett was unable to deliver a commencement speech, but said that it could not make any specific comments due to confidentiality. UPrep went on to wish Lovett "much success," and applauded him for being "the first black Valedictorian in the school’s four year graduation history."