New Jersey

Valedictorian Banned From Graduation: “They Took This Away From Me and My Family”

The 18-year-old New Jersey high school valedictorian who was banned from speaking at commencement says he was blindsided by the school's decision.

Devan Solanki, who's headed to Harvard University in the fall, was stripped of the honor of class valedictorian at Lodi High School and won't be walking when the rest of the class of 2015 is graduated on Tuesday. 

"Not only did they take this away from me, they took it away from my family," he told NBC 4 New York Friday. "It's a memory they're never going to get back." 

Officials informed Solanki earlier this month he wouldn't be giving a speech at graduation due to prior disciplinary issues, including talking back to a substitute teacher who he said was rude to a fellow student. Solanki said the principal told him it was tradition, not policy, to have the no. 1-ranking student address his peers, and that Solanki wouldn't be on stage. 

After mass emails and letters, student protests and a lot of frustration, Solanki tried to address it with his guidance counselor. 

"I walked into the guidance office and said, 'I'd like to resolve this peacefully,'" said Solanki. "I guess she took it as an ultimatum or an 'or else' statement. Her official words were, I threatened her." 

Solanki passed a school-ordered psychiatric evaluation and returned to school to find the superintendent waiting.

"He decided that regardless of being cleared by my mental evaluation, my alleged threat deserved a five-day suspension," which runs right through graduation, he said. 

Solanki's mother isn't happy but she is proud.

"That's me and my husband's dream, to give our kids a good education, and he finished our dream," said Nayna Solanki. 

School officials didn't return NBC 4 New York's calls for comment Friday, and principal Frank D'Amico has declined comment in the past, saying he couldn't discuss student issues. But Solanki has his own theory about why he's been silenced.

"I guess they were afraid I’d use the speech to try to get back to them, further my personal agenda, but they never took the time to look at the speech," he said. "They would see that I'm very aware that the speech at graduation is not the time to do that.”

So what would he have said in his speech?

"We are the generation of change -- not only do we witness it, we cause it and participate in it," he said. 

Though they couldn't change this outcome, Solanki said: "I'm considering apologizing for putting everyone through this situation but I do not regret my actions." 

He added, "I've learned how quickly the community can come together when there's something worth fighting for." 

A state education department spokesman has said Solanski can appeal to the education commissioner.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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