This is an optimistic story. This is a story about the young people graduating from our public schools. They have the knowledge, insight, and skill to see the games that unscrupulous adults are playing on them and on society. They speak out. They give all of us hope.

In California, a high school senior ripped into Los Angeles Unified School Board members for abandoning public schools and favoring privately managed public schools.

Axel Brito was the valedictorian of Hollywood High School, the student with the highest grade point average. He might have spoken in platitudes, like so many graduation speakers, but instead he criticized the school board members who had danced on the strings of billionaire supporters. School officials tried to interfere as he spoke, but the audience insisted that he be allowed to finish. The audience chanted “Let him speak, let him speak.” The article quotes the graduation speech in full (with a few errors). Watch it!

Before I commence, let us have a moment of silence for the 19 Uvalde students who will never have the opportunity to graduate as we do today.

“Achieve the honorable.” This motto has been driven through us repeatedly at every stage of our high school career, and during this time I have come to meet dedicated teachers who embody this to a tee. Teachers of this and other schools dedicate their lives laboring for us, the students, because they want and need our generation to succeed and change the future for the better.

Yet, at times the soundness of it falters. After all, does achieving the honorable mean lying about your volunteer hours and having this deed actively encouraged by the administration? Does it mean to have your grades, including my own, artificially inflated through the lowering of standards and driving our overworked teachers up a wall because of it? Does it mean to leave students unpunished for their transgressions to save face? Does it mean to lie and keep parents out of the loop during events that put us in danger, and more so to have a security system that is in no way keeping us safe? Does it mean to blame students due to the school’s own incompetence? I’d like to think not.

Despite this, I don’t blame this school for its wrongdoings, after all this is something that is learned through example.

Nick Melvoin for one abused his position and diverted district resources for his re-election campaign. A campaign which itself is funded not by us, the parents who have children in LAUSD schools, but by external multimillion and multibillion-dollar charter-based super PACs. He is not the man of the people; he is merely a puppet for those who put him into power. Look no further than in 2019 when he provided confidential information to the California Charter School Association, one of his many donors, while the district was being sued to prevent funds from being spent to make schools more accommodating for the disabled. So much for “putting kids first.”

Further so, we have Mónica García as another instance of this charter-centric rhetoric as she too is funded heavily by charter-based organizations. Under the guise of choice and neoliberal ideals, she has ravaged this district with a heavy expansion of charter schools without taking its students into account. Rather she refers to special education students as not “our own kids” and says that “our biggest problem is that most of our kids, all of our kids, can’t read.”

Tanya Ortiz-Franklin and Kelly Gonez don’t escape scrutiny either as they too are a result of charter super PACs and as such are willing to turn a blind eye to charters which allows these pro-charter board members to outvote those that hold the interests of our students.

Therefore, it is no surprise when these board members set out to close and convert Pio Pico Middle School and Orville Wright Middle School into charter schools. Schools they deem as failing due to low enrollment rates as the charters around them owe over 13 million dollars to the district. They don’t have our interests at heart, they have those of the multimillion-dollar charter school industry instead.

Astonishingly our previous superintendents, John Deasy and Austin Beutner, were magnitudes worse as they were put into power by the late billionaire Eli Broad and his heavily charter-centered foundation. Both of these men were put there with no experience in education and left amid controversy and successfully paved the way to privatizing LAUSD. Broad disrupted our education to achieve a district half composed of charters. He, alongside The Gates Foundation and the Walton Foundation, wormed their way through this district to privatize our human right of an education.

Our district may claim higher graduation rates, and this year’s class can attest to that. But, does moving a goalpost closer and closer each year truly mean a growth in students? No, it doesn’t, it just guarantees that we graduate and are pushed into a world we are not ready for. Our students don’t know what failure is because the district and schools themselves will not allow it as they pass extensions and recovery classes time after time.

I have heard administration at different schools, like that of NOW Academy, tell teachers to teach APs like non-APs to ensure higher pass rates. Students at Hollywood entered stunted by the pandemic and can hardly manage basic arithmetic. I can only imagine how much worse it must be at other schools.

This is not about an education. This is not about college. This is not about a career. This is about a system that profits off us and because of this perpetuates the failure of its students in exchange for a gilded view of success that ensures those in power stay in power. So don’t you dare conflate my success to that of this school’s administration and much less so the district. I’m not a product of the district even if I, alongside my class are treated as such. I’m a product of my passion and the passion of my teachers.

Class of 2022, this is not yet over. This is only the beginning of a rough uphill battle that our district has left us unprepared for. Take a stance, start now, and fight back against the system that has left us to rot and fester. Vote these people out of office and keep people like them from further ruining what our teachers worked so hard to foster. Destabilize the status quo.

Meanwhile, on the other coast, in Florida, the valedictorian of his high school class had a dilemma. He had been elected class president of his class every year; he was respected and liked. He has been accepted as a freshman at Harvard University. But he had a problem. He is gay. His principal reviewed his speech and advised him not to mention the fact that he is gay. So he talked about his curly hair and how it made him different from everyone who did not have curly hair.

Valerie Strauss wrote in “The Answer Sheet” blog at the Washington Post:

Senior Class President Zander Moricz was tapped with giving a commencement speech at Pine View School in Osprey, Fla., but was given a restriction not normally attached to such an event.

An openly gay activist who is the youngest plaintiff in a lawsuit against a new state law that restricts what teachers can say in classes about gender and sexual orientation, the teenager said publicly that he had been warned by his principal not to mention his activism or say the word “gay.” If he did, Moricz said on social media, his microphone would be cut off.

So on Sunday, Moricz gave the speech without saying the word — but still managed to speak directly about who he is and why he advocates for the LGBTQ community. He used his curly hair as a metaphor.

“I used to hate my curls,” he said, after removing his graduation cap and running his hands through his hair.

“I spent morning and night embarrassed of them trying to straighten this part of who I am, but the daily damage of trying to fix myself became too much to endure,” he said. “So while having curly hair in Florida is difficulty due to the humidity, I decided to be proud of who I was and started coming to school as my authentic self.”

Pine View Principal Steve Covert did not respond to The Washington Post’s efforts to contact him. Kelsey Whealy, a spokeswoman for Sarasota County Schools, said in a May 10 email that Pine View’s principal “did meet with Zander Moricz to remind him of the ceremony expectations” but did not say he had been told not to say “gay.”

Google his name and watch his speech.