Rooha Haghar, valedictorian of Emmett J. Conrad High School in Dallas, Texas, is accusing her school principal of censoring her speech.
In a video Haghar posted to Twitter earlier this week, one clip of her valedictorian speech — in which she honors that “victims of injustice” who died too early to see their high school graduation — cuts out after the school’s principal appears to signal for the sound engineer to cut her mic. The principal is seen pointing to his neck and giving a thumbs-up right after Haghar invoked the names of Tamir Rice and Trayvon Martin, both of whom were killed before they graduated high school.
“[M]y valedictorian speech was cut short because i said the names of black children who had become victims of police brutality,” Haghar tweeted, calling it “pathetic” that the school’s argument was that the audio cut out due to a “technical difficulty.”
my valedictorian speech was cut short because i said the names of black children who had become victims of police brutality. our principal signaled for my mic to be turned off as soon as i said “trayvon martin and tamir rice” and played it off as a technical difficulty. pathetic. pic.twitter.com/9upW3dZ7Mg
— روحا (@ItsRoohaHaghar) June 3, 2019
In a follow-up statement, Haghar wrote that her invocation of Martin and Rice wasn’t intended to create “divisiveness,” and that she believed her principal only cut off her valedictorian speech “out of ignorance,” saying that “we all have room for growth.”
“When I first read my speech to my teacher a week ago, I was told mentioning those names will incite anger towards white people, a group which according to him experience high levels of discrimination in America,” Haghar wrote. “He said the speech became too political when I listed Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown’s names, mind you the two lines before that talk about mass shootings and religious persecution (not too political?) He advised me to take that line out completely. I didn’t.”
“When I had my first meeting with the principal, he told me those lines do not fall within the [Dallas Independent School District] valedictorian speech guideline, which neither I nor any other student have access to. We revised a few sentences, and he also advised me to take the names out,” she continued. “The day of graduation, I had a choice to make. Do I read the censored speech in the binder, or speak the words I had originally written? I knew none of the consequences I could possibly face came even slightly close to what the families of the victims have to live with on a daily basis. I chose to read my original speech.”
some more context and background information. i really think my principal did this out of ignorance, and we all have room for growth. i never meant to create more divisiveness, but i also feel like certain conversations need to be had pic.twitter.com/1YOEe8a91d
— روحا (@ItsRoohaHaghar) June 4, 2019
Haghar then directly addressed her critics at the end of her follow-up statement.
“You always say it’s time for youth to lead and for youth voices to be heard. Then listen: Innocent children being murdered is not a bipartisan issue. It’s the product of a failed system, a system that has normalized death to the point that we forget names and move in the span of weeks,” she wrote. “If the names Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Jordan Edwards, and Michael Brown make you feel uncomfortable, then you are completely aware of what’s happening and have chosen to remain silent.”
Tom Cahill is a contributor for Grit Post who covers political and economic news. He lives in Bend, Oregon. Send him an email at tom DOT v DOT cahill AT gmail DOT com.