(Adding letter to Naidu family from district superintendent)
Kriya Naidu is the valedictorian at University High School in Orange County, Fla. — but unlike many other students who graduate at the top of their class, she was not permitted to deliver her speech at commencement. School officials didn’t like parts of it.
First, she told WOFL-TV in Orlando, she was asked to edit out several sentences, including a line by rapper Cardi B about overcoming adversity. Then, she said, a school official asked her to prerecord the speech for airing at the graduation, apparently so it could be checked to make sure she hadn’t uttered the edited comments.
She did not prerecord the speech — which focuses on resilience and the fortitude of immigrants — and she was not allowed to give the speech live at the ceremony.
"I was completely shocked they would take away this once in a lifetime opportunity for me,” she told WOFL. She said she did not have time to prerecord the speech because of work and an Advanced Placement exam.
When the story became public, the school system issued an apology to Naidu and her family, according to Lorena Arias, assistant director of media relations for Orange County Public Schools. She said in an email:
“The district has apologized to the Naidu family. The School Board and Superintendent were not aware of the controversy prior to University High School’s graduation ceremony. Kriya has been invited to give her speech at the next school board meeting and to have it professionally recorded and posted to the district’s website and shared on social media platforms. The district is reviewing its commencement practices for improvements.”
In a letter to Naidu, district Superintendent Barbara Jenkins apologized for “unfortunate mistakes" made. (You can see the full text of the letter below.)
What were the sentences that were deemed offensive?
And I hope you remember, like the rapper and philosopher Cardi B says, “Knock me down nine times but I get up 10.”
I’m sure that all of us in our past four years of high school -- while making memories of deans kissing pigs, racoons in vending machines, and toilet fires in the 25 building -- have been knocked down.
The problem with that line, the graduating senior told the television station, was the reference to a toilet fire.
And there was this part of the speech, in which she refers to Principal Anne Carcara and that she says she wrote as a joke:
I want to begin by taking a moment to thank those of you who have helped me get to the podium today, namely the teachers of this wonderful school who have no qualms about taking bribes. Just kidding, Dr. Carcara.
In her speech, Naidu spoke about how her family came to the United States from South Africa and their determination to succeed. In an unedited version of the speech, she wrote:
You see, in 1995, my parents emigrated from South Africa and moved here, to America, with only $500 to their name. And with all the opportunities that this country has afforded them, they were able to build a life for themselves and eventually myself and my sisters. And thanks to that, I have made it here today.
But they faced their fair share of challenges. Prejudice, difficulty securing jobs, pay parity and much more. 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. As Lin-Manuel Miranda said, “Immigrants, we get the job done.”
But my parents and I aren’t the only immigrants: Most everyone here in this arena today, if not an immigrant themselves, is descended from someone who moved to America with a dream in their hearts as well.
Asked about what happened with the speech, Carcara, the principal, said in an email:
Thank you for contacting me.
University High School is proud of its Class of 2019 and its valedictorian who challenged themselves throughout their high school years. Valedictorians are role models to their peers and their speech is a moment of inspiration and celebration. School administrators worked closely with the valedictorian providing her guidance after reviewing her speech. She was then given the opportunity to pre-record her speech as is the practice in some of our high schools. We were disappointed that she chose not to do so. We wish her and the Class of 2019 much success in their future.
Here’s the video Naidu made of her unedited speech and following that is the text of a letter the district superintendent, Barbara Jenkins, sent to the Naidu family:
Here’s the text of the Jenkins letter to Naidu, as provided by the school district:
Dear Ms. Naidu,
I was made aware of your situation yesterday afternoon and was deeply saddened. I want to assure you that my office nor the school board had been made aware of this issue prior to the UHS graduation ceremony. I apologize to your daughter and family for the unfortunate mistakes made, and assure you that staff involved will be educated as requested. Our commencement procedures are being reviewed for improvements. You may also expect a follow up call from Dr. Carcara.
I again commend your daughter for her outstanding accomplishments, and congratulate her parents as well. If she is available I would like to invite Kriya to our next school board meeting on June 11 to give her commencement speech. Additionally, we can tape her speech in our studio and post it on our web site and social media. Regardless of this error, I have no doubt that Kriya’s future remains extremely bright. Please convey my regards and that I look forward to seeing her again on June 11th. Feel free to contact me at 407-317-xxxx or my deputy superintendent, Dr. Vazquez at 407-317-xxxx if needed.
Orange County Public Schools