Local valedictorian's speech goes viral after being denied at graduation

(WHAM photo)

Rochester, N.Y. (13WHAM) - Jaisaan Lovett graduated from University Preparatory Charter School for Young Men last month. Lovett calls it "UPrep," and he says he's glad to be done with school there.

Lovett says he was the 2018 valedictorian. But unlike many others who graduate at the top of their class, he never got to deliver a speech, despite having one prepared at graduation.

"My speech was just to get my message out," said Lovett.

But his message didn't get out. At least, not at graduation.

Lovett isn't shy about discussing what he calls past rifts between him and the school's administration, particularly Joseph Munno, who's listed on the school's website as its president.

"Over the years, we never saw eye-to-eye when it came to things such as just how the school was run," said Lovett. "We had disagreements with some things."

Lovett says Munno denied him the chance to give the speech.

But Lovett happens to be an intern at City Hall. And Mayor Lovely Warren heard about what happened.

The Mayor's Office recorded Lovett's speech at City Hall and uploaded it to the city's YouTube page.

It had quickly gone viral, with more than 125,000 views after just two days online.

In the three-minute-long speech, Lovett did what he couldn't do at graduation, thanking his family and friends, and others who had helped him along the way to graduation.

Near the end, he confronts Munno and the school in a speech he says was never altered, even after being denied the speech at graduation.

"To Mr. Munno, my principal, there’s a whole lot of things I’ve wanted to say to you for a long time," Lovett says in the video. "As a matter of fact, I wasn’t going to give this speech at all, but then I realized something, I realized this speech is about more than just me. It means a lot to everybody I mean a lot to."

Lovett says it wasn't his intent to target the school or anyone within it, but he felt obligated to say something about his experience there.

"The speech wasn’t purposed to speak against UPrep - that was just a part I threw in there based on my personal experiences because, I’m like, 'That’s also a part of me I can’t not speak on that and let things go unnoticed,'" said Lovett.

Looking back on what happened two weeks later, Lovett's only complaint about not being able to deliver the speech at graduation is that his mother wasn't able to hear it during the ceremony.

But in many ways, he's happier that his speech was nixed at graduation, because he believes more people are hearing what he had to say.

"If I gave that valedictorian speech at that graduation, that speech would’ve stayed at that graduation," said Lovett. "But now it’s everywhere, everyone is hearing it, so I think it’s better this way."

Lovett did say he feels a lot of people are jumping to an unfair conclusion that his speech denial was racially motivated - something which Lovett says isn't the case.

"To be fair to (Munno), I never felt like anything was ever coming from a racial standpoint or being racially targeted," said Lovett. "I know me and him had personal, individual problems, but race was never a part of it, and that’s how a lot of people are looking at it now."

Lovett says he'll be attending Clark Atlanta University on a full scholarship later this year. He plans on majoring in computer science and currently wants to pursue a career in video game design.

The school issued this statement on July 4:

"We are aware of the concern with the Valedictorian not speaking at graduation. The Board will be reviewing the circumstances regarding what happened and looking into the related guidelines and school policies. For confidentiality reasons, the school isn’t able to speak about the specifics of this situation. However, the school did try to connect with the Mayor’s Office and the school’s call was not returned. UPrep wishes Jaisaan Lovett, the first black Valedictorian in the school’s four year graduation history, much success as he continues his education at Clark Atlanta University."

The Mayor's Office says it has no record of a call coming from the school.

13WHAM did reach out to Munno for comment but never heard back.

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