Standing behind the lectern in her crisp white cap and gown, the valedictorian at San Ysidro High School did what valedictorians are supposed to do — until she didn’t.
First, senior Nataly Buhr thanked her friends for the memories and her mom and dad for their “endless love.” She praised a handful of teachers at the San Diego school for being “so invested” in her education and well-being, calling them “the most intelligent, inspiring and supportive individuals I have had the pleasure of learning from.”
And then the teen pivoted — hard — to the school staffers she deemed wholly uninspiring, an unexpected move that made her searing speech catch fire online.
To her counselor: “Thanks for teaching me to fend for myself: You were always unavailable to my parents and I, despite appointments. ... You expressed to me your joy in knowing that one of your students was valedictorian, when you had absolutely no role in my achievements.”
Her classmates fidgeted in their seats on the football field, not yet fully recognizing Buhr’s censure. But the chastisement was far from finished.
To the main office staff: “Thank you for teaching me how to be resourceful. Your negligence to inform me of several scholarships until the day before they were due potentially caused me to miss out on thousands of dollars. When applying for a work permit, you repeatedly turned me away, despite confirming with my employer and my parents that all of my paperwork was filled out correctly. I’ve had to escalate issues with staff to an assistant principal various times to reach any sort of solution."
Now the crowd was engaged. Jaws dropped. Hands covered mouths. Heads whipped side to side in smirking disbelief.
Buhr charged on.
“To the teacher who was regularly intoxicated during class this year,” she said, this time drawing an audible response from the crowd, “thank you for using yourself as an example to teach students about the dangers of alcoholism. Being escorted by police out of school left a lasting impression.”
Buhr concluded: “I hope that future students and staff learn from these examples.”
Her final thanks, to the class of 2019, was drowned out by an uproar of cheers, whistles and applause.
Not all were as enthused by the valedictorian’s speech.
Manuel Rubio, a spokesman for Sweetwater Union High School District, told the San Diego Union-Tribune that Buhr’s speech did not reflect the one the school had preapproved before the commencement ceremony.
“We think that the student’s speech was inappropriate and out of line,” Rubio said in an email to the Union-Tribune. “While we definitely welcome the concerns of students and their families regarding any situation at one of our schools, doing so in such a manner without any prior knowledge of this situation by the school, is not the right way of handling this. Ultimately this takes away from what should have been a day of celebration for the school and their community.”
Rubio also told the Union-Tribune that students are exposed to information about college as early as seventh grade and given additional information each year after that through district programs.
In an interview with local TV station CBS 8, Buhr said the feedback she has received has been mostly supportive. She stands by her decision, she told the TV station.
“In the beginning I recognized and thanked those who I believe went above and beyond for the students,” Buhr said in her CBS interview. “I understand that those I criticized may be facing personal issues, but I don’t think that should affect their commitments or the school’s responsibility to fulfill their commitments. I didn’t expect for change to come from my speech, but I was hoping it would encourage more students to speak up.”
Buhr’s mother, Monica Serratos, told CBS 8 she was “proud” that her daughter “spoke up and got it out.”
“Hopefully it opens their eyes,” Serratos said.