SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
Rooha Haghar gave the valedictorian address last week into the Emmett J. Conrad High School class of 2019 in Dallas. Well, part of the address anyway. When she said, quote, "to Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and all the other children who became victims of injustice," her mic was cut off. Rooha Haghar joins us now from Dallas. Thanks so much for being with us.
ROOHA HAGHAR: Of course.
SIMON: May we invite you to complete your sentence?
HAGHAR: So I was going to finish by saying to Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice and all the other children who became victims of injustice, to the kids across the globe affected by war, famine, persecution, child labor who have lost years of education due to hunger, displacement, lack of finances and lack of educational resources, I'm sorry.
SIMON: Why was it important for you to say that?
HAGHAR: So, initially, I just wrote their names because I knew their stories and I knew of the injustice. I was simply trying to remember their names and make the graduating class understand how much of a privilege it is that we are here and that we are graduating. But the importance of it really - I understood it when I had a talk with my teacher, and he wanted me to just delete the names. Like, he had no problem with anything else but just the names, saying that it's very controversial, and it will create hate towards white people. And then my principal, when he said it's outside the guidelines and you're sending the wrong message and you're not in a position of power, so you shouldn't even mention the names, so that's when I understood that these names are making people uncomfortable, and maybe they should be said.
SIMON: You happen to be from a refugee immigrant family yourself, don't you?
HAGHAR: Yeah, that is correct.
SIMON: And give us some idea of the demographics of your school.
HAGHAR: So our school is actually majority minority, meaning we have a lot of immigrants and a lot of minorities in our school. And my school is very diverse, but also the administration, they do a very good job of accommodating to all of our needs. I don't say it enough in every interview, but my school is a great school. I don't hate my principal or any of the people in my school. I just think they made a mistake, and this is a learning opportunity for them.
SIMON: So in the end, why didn't you just say, and remember, tomorrow is the first day for the rest of your life, have a great summer?
HAGHAR: (Laughter) Why didn't I just give a generic speech? Because I feel like if change is going to happen, we are going to have to speak outside of the guidelines and we are going to have to break a few boundaries. What adults think that we want to hear at graduation is completely incorrect because all the graduating students that spoke to me afterwards, they were happy that I mentioned the names. And they were happy of the message I was trying to send to them because we have been living with these realities for a while. I'm not introducing a new idea at graduation when I say those names. I'm just remembering and paying respect and really making them understand the privilege.
SIMON: What are you going to do now?
HAGHAR: Hopefully go to UT and finish my bachelor's.
SIMON: University of Texas, yeah.
HAGHAR: At Austin, correct. I want to hopefully work for a non-profit organization that does humanitarian work in the Middle East.
SIMON: Well, you'd do well and, remember, tomorrow is the first day for the (laughter) - I can't say that with a straight face.
HAGHAR: (Laughter) OK. I'll remember that.
SIMON: Rooha Haghar, valedictorian of the Emmett J. Conrad High School in Dallas, thank you so much.
HAGHAR: Of course. Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.