Administrators at a Florida high school scuttled its valedictorian’s graduation speech because she didn’t send it to them to review in advance — so she posted it online instead.
Kriya Naidu, the top-ranked student at University High School in Orange County, posted her 3-minute speech Tuesday on YouTube and Twitter after being denied the chance to send off her classmates earlier in the day at the ceremony held at the University of Central Florida, where she’ll attend this fall and major in computer science.
“I was really upset at first,” Naidu told the Orlando Sentinel. “I worked so hard on it.”
Naidu said she was asked late Thursday to record her speech, which she simply didn’t have enough time to do because of her part-time tutoring job and an Advanced Placement calculus exam, one of the nine such rigorous courses she took this semester.
That apparently put the kibosh on her speech.
Hours before the ceremony, an administrator told Naidu’s mother that her daughter would be barred from the podium.
In her speech posted online, Naidu thanked her parents for their love and support throughout the past 18 years, including the “warm meals” that awaited her at home, frequent road trips and plenty of ice cream on those excursions.
Naidu said her parents emigrated to the United States from South Africa in 1995 and managed to build a life for themselves and their daughters.
“However, they faced their fair share of challenges: prejudice, difficulty securing jobs, pay parity and much more,” Naidu said. “But every time they were knocked down, they got back up. Their success is an example of what immigrants, people of color and everyone can achieve with hard work, even when they find themselves in a country that seems to work against them.”
Naidu then gave a shout-out to the musical “Hamilton”: “As Lin-Manuel Miranda said, ‘Immigrants, we get the job done.’
Immigrants are valued members in every corner of society, including “teachers who inspire us,” the “farmers who feed us” and the entertainers who regularly “touch our hearts,” Naidu continued.
It’s unclear whether the topic of her speech was problematic, Naidu said, telling the Sentinel that she “didn’t say anything inflammatory.”
In an email sent to the teen’s mother on Thursday, the school district’s superintendent apologized to Naidu, saying she was “deeply saddened” by the incident. The email also claimed “immigration was never a topic of concern.”
“I apologize to your daughter and family for the unfortunate mistakes made,” the email read. “I again commend your daughter for her outstanding accomplishments, and congratulate her parents as well.”
Naidu said she appreciated the apology but didn’t want any other students to feel the way she did.
District officials have since invited her to give her speech at an upcoming school board meeting, according to the Sentinel, which said the school’s principal was not available for interviews.
Naidu, meanwhile, quoted “famous rapper and philosopher” Cardi B while closing her speech, which has racked up more than 19,000 views on YouTube.
“Knock me down nine times, but I get up 10,” she said.
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