A California school district is defending its decision to allow a valedictorian to deliver his graduation speech entirely in Spanish even though many people in the audience only spoke English and felt excluded from the ceremony.
Jessie Ceja, the principal at Orestimba High School in Newman, Calif., said the valedictorian had earned the right to deliver the speech any way he saw fit.
“The student earned the right as valedictorian, I feel, and if he felt that way I decided to give him that opportunity,” Ceja told Mattos Newspapers.
The student, Saul Tello, Jr. said he wanted to deliver a Spanish and English language version of his speech—but the district said there was only time to deliver one.
He told the local newspaper he had no intention of making a social statement by delivering his speech in Spanish. He said he did so to honor his parents.
Prior to his speech, Tello apologized in English to the non-Spanish speakers attending the graduation ceremony.
However, that decision resulted in telephone calls to the school—and concern among some school trustees—who believed at least some of the speech should have been delivered in English.
“I think that there has to be some acknowledgement that English is the official language of the state, that you have to be proficient in English to graduate a that a sizable portion of the audience does not speak Spanish,” trustee Tim Bazar told the newspaper.
School superintendent Ed Felt defended the student’s speech and the principal’s decision.
“We are a community with two dominant languages, and both should be recognized,” Felt told the newspaper.
Tello told the newspaper that he was upset by the controversy his speech received, calling critics “close-minded.”