Valedictorian’s Speech Interrupted While Listing Names of Black Teens Shot by Police

A Texas teenager said school administrators cut the microphone during her high school valedictorian speech because she listed the names of Black teens who were victims of police brutality.

Rooha Haghar, the valedictorian at Emmett J. Conrad High School in Dallas, said in a statement on Twitter that she was reading a list of Black teens who were killed as a result of police brutality when her microphone was cut. In the video posted to Twitter on June 3, Haghar is heard reading the names of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice seconds before the microphone was silenced.

“My valedictorian speech was cut short because I said the names of Black children who had become victims of police brutality,” Haghar wrote on Twitter. “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.”

Rice was only 12 years old in November 2014 when he was fatally shot in Cleveland, Ohio by a police officer while he was playing with a pellet gun in a park, The New York Times reported. Officer Timothy Loehmann said he “feared for his life” when he saw the boy playing with the gun, according to The Times. In October 2018, Loehmann was hired as a part-time police officer at the Bellaire Police Department in Ohio, the publication stated. Martin, 17, was shot and killed in February 2012 by neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman while visiting his father in Sanford, Florida. Zimmerman faced trial for the death of the teen, but was acquitted in July 2013, The Guardian previously reported.

In a Twitter thread, Haghar included a portion of her speech for further context. The speech stated that many teens, including Martin and Rice, would not be able to obtain their high school diplomas because their lives were cut short by police violence. The valedictorian also acknowledged teens who are unable to attend school for financial reasons, those who were killed during mass shootings, and children who are affected by war.

“You see, tonight is a celebration of our achievements, yes. But it is also a reminder of all the work that needs to be done,” Haghar wrote. Haghar, who stated that she is an Iranian refugee and has previously spoken out against social injustice, tweeted that she had read her original speech to her teacher a week ago, who said mentioning Martin and Rice would “incite anger towards white people.”

During her first meeting with Principal Temesghen Asmerom, Haghar said she was told that the lines did not “fall within the DISD valedictorian speech guideline.” Haghar said she did not have access to the speech guideline to prove that her commencement address fell outside regulations. The two sat together and revised the lines by taking out the names. Haghar also claimed that Asmerom can be seen in the video signaling to cut the microphone during her speech.

“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.” Haghar wrote on the social media website.

In an interview with KXAS, Haghar said that she does not regret including the names in her speech, but never expected that she would be unable to finish her address. "I never expected to be silenced. The consequences I was expecting to face was them holding my diploma or having a conversation with my principal," Haghar told the news station. "I never expected them to not allow me to finish, because at the end of the day, schools want to raise socially conscious students, students who are able to think for themselves. That's what I was doing."

The high school graduate told KXAS that she plans on attending the University of Texas at Austin and will continue to be an advocate for social justice. In a statement to The North Star, the Dallas Independent School District said “we educate leaders of tomorrow and encourage student voices, and we are looking into this matter.”

About the Author

Maria Perez is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has an M.A. in Urban Reporting from the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. She has been published in the various venues, including Newsweek, Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, City Limits, and local newspapers like The Wave and The Home Reporter.