When Indian American valedictorian Kriya Naidu was denied an opportunity to give her graduation speech, she figured out a way to make herself heard.
Wearing her cap and gown and standing in her bedroom, Naidu, the top-ranked student at University High School in Orange County, Florida, captured her valedictory speech on video and posted it on YouTube – where it has been viewed over 46,000 times – and Twitter.
Naidu, who plans to major in computer science when she begins classes at the University of Central Florida in the fall, told the Orlando Sentinel that she was disappointed.
“I was really upset at first,” she said. “I worked so hard on it.”
According to the publication, an administrator called her mother a few hours before the ceremony to say her daughter would not be allowed to deliver her speech “because she did not record it ahead of time as requested.”
But Naidu took to Twitter to say that she was never given a clear reason.
“I would like to clarify that the exact reason I was not allowed to speak at graduation is not clear. I was told it was because they didn’t trust me to stick to my script, although I gave them no reason to doubt me,” she wrote.
After thanking her friends and family, the 18-year-old, whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from South Africa but are of Indian origin, shared her parents’ experiences as immigrants in this country.
“They faced their fair share of challenges: prejudice, difficulty securing jobs, pay parity and much more,” Naidu said. “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.”
Quoting Lin-Manuel Miranda from the musical, “Hamilton,” Naidu said: “As Lin-Manuel Miranda said, ‘Immigrants, we get the job done.’”
She went on to say that this story is not just about her parents but of all immigrants who moved to America with a “dream in their hearts as well.”
“Immigrants are the teachers who inspire us, the police and the soldiers who protect us, they are the engineers who design our skylines and the construction workers who build them, they are the farmers who feed us, and the artists and entertainers who touch our hearts…” she said.
Naidu ended her three-minute speech with a quote from “famous rapper and philosopher” Cardi B, saying: “Knock me down nine times, but I get up 10.”
Naidu, wondering about the ban, told the Sentinel that she didn’t know if it was the subject of her speech, saying, “I didn’t say anything inflammatory.” She also added that she could not record her speech because that request was made late in the day May 23 and the next day, she was busy with her part-time tutoring job and an Advanced Placement calculus exam. The graduation was scheduled for May 28.
The school district, in an email to the Orlando Sentinel, said that “immigration was never a topic of concern in the student’s speech.”
The publication added that Superintendent Barbara Jenkins sent an email to Naidu’s mother saying she was “deeply saddened” by what happened and would educate staff and review procedures “for improvements.”
“I apologize to your daughter and family for the unfortunate mistakes made. ... I again commend your daughter for her outstanding accomplishments, and congratulate her parents as well,” she said.
Naidu told the Orlando Sentinel that she “appreciates” the apology, “but I don’t want this to happen to any valedictorian.”
Watch Naidu’s graduation speech here: