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UPDATED: Santa Fe High School Valedictorian will be speaking at graduation after petition gains over 1,400 signatures

Photo courtesy Evan Cornell

BY JENNIFER CABRERA

Update: Just as this article was published, Santa Fe High School Principal Dr. Tim Wright called Cornell’s family to say that he will be allowed to speak at graduation.

ALACHUA, Fla. – Evan Cornell, Santa Fe High School’s 2023 Valedictorian, hopes that a petition created by a friend will persuade the school’s administration to let him speak at graduation.

Cornell, who said it is “expectation and tradition” that both the valedictorian and salutatorian will be offered an opportunity to speak at graduation, told us that he and others are “shocked” that he has been denied the opportunity to speak.

Santa Fe High School Principal Dr. Timothy Wright did not respond to our email asking for the school administration’s side of the story, but Cornell said students were notified in early April that anybody who wanted to speak at graduation should sign up for an audition. Cornell signed up and auditioned with five other students on April 21. He said he learned on May 12 that he had not been selected, and no explanation was provided; Cornell said that the students were not provided with any criteria or rubric that would be used to judge the speech, and because of that, the decision felt “arbitrary” to him.

Cornell said he sent an email to the principal on May 14, asking to speak with him, and when they met, Dr. Wright simply told him that two other people had been chosen; Cornell said, however, that he was told the decision had nothing to do with the length or content of his speech. A friend in one of his classes created the petition two days later.

Cornell was clear that he did not want to replace either of the two speakers who were selected: “I’ve made it clear from the beginning that I’m asking for the opportunity to speak alongside them.” He said his speech is about six minutes long, and since Santa Fe High School’s ceremony is the last one of the day, there shouldn’t be any time pressure.

Since graduation is on May 27, there is not much time for Cornell to persuade the administration to change their minds, but he said that regardless of what happens, “I am honored to hold this title, and I am honored by the sheer amount of support that has come in.”

Cornell said that according to his research, only Santa Fe High School, Hawthorne High School, Newberry High School, and PAM @ Loften High have valedictorians in Alachua County; the other schools name varying numbers of top graduates. Last year, Santa Fe High School also held auditions, but Cornell said nobody showed up, so the school administration approached the valedictorian and gave her the opportunity to speak. Cornell also said that this year’s salutatorian does not wish to speak at graduation. In addition to the two people who were chosen by audition, the Student Body President and Class President will also be speaking at graduation.

Hannah Rone, Newberry High School’s 2023 Valedictorian, said she was automatically given the opportunity to speak at graduation and added, “I feel awful for Evan and know how hard he worked to earn this position. I believe you earn what you earn, and he earned this opportunity. Society is attempting to diminish the title of Valedictorian to promote a sense of sameness that just isn’t real. We cannot let society strip away a title that has always prompted accomplishment and work ethic, and Evan deserves to speak.”

Cornell is planning to attend Georgetown University in the fall to major in Government and hopes to join the U.S. Air Force as an officer after graduation and attend law school. He hopes to eventually run for office, possibly as a Congressman, and his ultimate goal is to become President of the United States.

  • Equity, diversity and inclusion would seem to dictate that it is only fair that the bottom rung morons be allowed to speak at graduation in preference to a kid who was tops in his class. Being at the top must mean he is a “racist.” Where’s the equity?

    • The 2 chosen to speak were not morons as you so eloquently put it. They are both very bright individuals who will do the class proud. I am a 100% in support of the valedictorian and salutatorian speaking if they so choose. This is not a political issue nor is it about racial equality, diversity, or anything else. It is about our accountability to recognize an individual for the achievements they’ve made in his/her educations thus far. I am happy Dr Wright took into consideration the desires of the community and chose to allow him to speak. This shows the integrity of a good leader. The policy was set that did not allow him to give his speech. Dr Wright listened and made an executive decision to allow him to speak. I hope to see changes made in the near future to eliminate the need for petitions to be necessary in the future.

      • Evan Cornell was simply superior. Traditionally, the superior achiever speaks at graduation. Evan’s inferiors felt victimized. Evidently Dr. Wright felt that some whining snowflake wannabes must get a gold star lest they feel offended. Valedictorian? Racist. Success? Racist. Iconic American heroes? Racist. Advanced placement courses? Racist. Calculus? Even that’s racist these days. And Dr. Wright? What a hero! “Dr. Wright listened and made an executive decision to allow him to speak.” An executive decision? Sounds more like a virtue signaling fool who knuckled under to pressure to do the traditionally obvious — let the valedictorian speak at graduation.

        • Dr. Wright 100% “knuckled under pressure.” I would be surprised if he had anything to do with the original decision. I would bet the student government director made the initial decision to deprive Evan of speaking. Interesting title for someone who is supposed to be fostering students in leadership. Dr. Wright continues to allow staff at the school to make decisions that belittle students instead of empowering them. As a parent of several Santa Fe High School students I can attest to the treatment of students that do not conform to “leadership’s” ideals. The student government director appoints the students rather than allowing the student body to elect their student government. These students are chosen because they will not speak up. They will do whatever the director tells them. Several times this year students were denied basic requests like decorating their senior parking spots and graduation caps. These are things you see students everywhere getting to do as a senior privilege. If a student tries to change or voice any idea they will be reprimanded publicly in a verbally abusive manor. The comment has been made by students this year that if an idea they have is going to be fun then “the director” will deny it. Hence the reason the senior picnic was canceled due to lack of participation. The students are threatened with all the do’s and don’ts before any activity to the point it is just better not to participate. If you are not a student in the core group of the chosen then your accomplishments are less than. For example, two seniors earned AA degrees as dual enrollment students and were recognized at the awards ceremony with a handshake while several students were awarded cords because their parent works at the school. Graduation cords are traditionally for academic achievements. The cord presentation based on parent employment shows you the kind of favoritism that Santa Fe continues to honor. These choices from the “leadership” are a slap in the face to students that earn honors due to their own hard work. I feel confident saying these are not isolated incidents. I am happy that someone was brave enough to speak up and fight the dysfunctional dynamics happening at Santa Fe. Hopefully, someone within the district will take the time to train or educate leadership at Santa Fe. Their one job to prepare students for life after high school is lacking.

          • Bro, that’s some heinous stuff. I don’t miss school (46), but it was so much simpler in my day. Granted, if you got bullied you better toughen up or learn to fight. I would take this simple dynamic over the layers of culture destroying ideology nowadays.

    • This young man worked, studied, and was diligent in his high school studies and receive good grades for his effort. How in the world is that racist??

    • No.
      That’s not what it “dictates” at all.
      Stop being so afraid of people who are slightly different than you are.

  • Hannah Rone, Newberry High School’s 2023 Valedictorian, said she was automatically given the opportunity to speak at graduation and added, “I feel awful for Evan and know how hard he worked to earn this position. I believe you earn what you earn, and he earned this opportunity. Society is attempting to diminish the title of Valedictorian to promote a sense of sameness that just isn’t real. We cannot let society strip away a title that has always prompted accomplishment and work ethic, and Evan deserves to speak.”

    AMAZING! A high schooler was educated enough to see through the BS being promulgated within this school district. It really is a travesty that a student isn’t able to be put on a stage in recognition of their accomplishments simply because it is a pedestal others aren’t willing to climb and still others believe it’s not fair to ask for some to aspire to achieve.

    It’s not how far or how hard you’re willing to work for success, it’s what government will do to prop you up for your lack of effort.

    • Amen! Our world is gonna be okay with people like Hannah and Evan in it! Bravo for speaking up and not letting your accomplishments be diminished. We need leaders like you.

  • santa fe has not changed it still discriminates just ask my sons even the dead one

  • I am interested in the accomplishments of the other two speakers as well as the topics for their speech. It should be automatic that the top two academic achievers speak if they desire, and then any additional speakers are fine too… probably.

  • Yep… sounds like the new “equality” was at work here…. What happened to the people running public education? It’s like their brains fell out, and they’ve filled the void with seven worse demons. Thankfully, he stood up for himself.

  • Way to go Evan. Continue to stand up for what is right. I knew you and had many conversations with you as a young boy when I was an after school Activity Leader at High Springs Community School…I knew you would achieve whatever you set out to do. Continue to fight for justice and stand for what’s right…Congratulations!

  • Congratulations to the graduating class. This is but a new beginning in your young lives. Embrace the challenge, do what you can to make this country, this world, a better place.

    Back in the “old days” there were only a couple speakers.
    The principal would speak and introduce the graduating class, distinguished guests and speakers, (not students); the Class President, Valedictorian and Salutatorian would provide speeches for their accomplishments as a student body, their triumphs as well as their disappointments. The ceremony would begin with a prayer for the graduates, their accomplishments and their future endeavors.

    Some things haven’t gotten better with age.

  • Traditionally the valedictorian speaks at graduation. Does not mean you always follow tradition but he earned it. I have never heard of one being denied a speech. Something is going on behind closed doors. Let him speak, Principal Wright. What are you afraid of?

  • As a retired teacher & administrator I am appalled that a school valedictorian would not be allowed to speak at graduation. It amazes me to see what the world of education is evolving into. Congratulations to those who stood up & signed the petition for Evan Cornell.

  • I blame Gov Desantis. If he had not passed those bills, by now Evan would have had plenty of time to transition to a black female and the school board Diversity Department would be begging him and paying him to speak.

  • This school and it’s staff, need a good shake up. Principal and teachers need to be removed or demoted and fired.

  • What did this young man say in his speech? It was never put out what he said, if it was controversial, then I can see them refusing to let him speak. This is one of the problems we have today. People have forgot as top graduates they are to speak to all of their students that they went to school with to go out and make this a better world. Not promote and individual agenda.

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