“Today is About The Truth”

Michelle Liu Photo The following is the valedictory speech that outgoing Board of Education member and Hillhouse High School student Coral Ortiz gave at her graduation last week. She begins at Yale University in the fall.

I would like to start by first and foremost thanking God and every person who helped us get where we are today. In particular, thank you to our friends and families who supported us as we worked towards this moment, and who are here supporting us as we graduate. I would like to personally thank my teachers, mentors, counselors and all of my peers and friends. Lastly and most importantly, my family: I could not thank my parents enough for the support they gave me.

I’ve thought a lot about this day; about what I want to say, and what message I want to send. I thought about preparing something different, but as I thought, I decided it was best to share the truth. The truth about what this day actually means. The truth about what we as a class represent.

When we were young, we were taught that we were “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Our country taught us that no matter our income or race, we would all have the same chance to achieve our dreams. We were taught that there would never be a bias against a certain group of people, and that society believes in each and every one of us. These lessons of equality were taught as self-evident. These lessons of equality have and continue to be a lie.

The reality is that despite the fact that we recite the words “one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all,” it has been 50 years since the civil rights movement that our country has never been equal. We—a class mostly made up of minority, low income, and first generation students—have had the odds stacked against us, but here we are standing at this graduation with 3 state championships, college acceptances, and one of largest increases in graduation rates in the State, because we didn’t let the inherent inequality stop us from achieving our goals.

I would be lying if I said today is like any other day, because today is not like any other day. Most importantly, Today is not your typical high school graduation; it is more than that. Today is the day when we walk across a stage and take our diplomas, as an act of defiance to those who said we could not. We have had many students, administrators, and teachers come and go. We have had heart break; we have had our nation turn its backs on us, through supporting those who support hate. So, to those that believed my classmates and I were incapable, I have decided to leave a message for you:

To the teacher who said my classmates and I would fail and that the taxpayers wasted resources on our education -– Today, we teach you that you were wrong.

To the counselor who told me students at this school never get into prestigious colleges - we didn’t let your perception of us define who we are.

To the people who assume we are robbing their stores because of the color of our skin - don’t judge a book by its cover.

To the people who told us that only boys were good at math - Girls are more than just pretty faces.

To the people who violated our bodies - no means no.

To the people who questioned our dedication to the things we were involved in - you didn’t see our sleepless nights and three championship trophies.

To the person who believed that our socio-economic status would define us - you do not need to be a millionaire to succeed.

To the lady on the bus who told me my peers and I would go to jail because of the high school we attended - we are still free.

To the politicians and corporations that refuse to address gun violence because it might cost them money- life has no price.

To the people who assume that our names are too ghetto to be qualified - our names have taken us farther than you could have imagined.

To the leaders who thought it was okay to make decisions that forced us to go to classes without textbooks – it is far from okay.

To the person who told us we only got into college because we were minorities - the color of one’s skin does not determine intelligence.

To the people that talked poorly about us in the newspaper - you taught us how to be fearless.

To the people who thought it was okay to experiment with our education - the math of 5 principals in 4 years just doesn’t add up.

To the people who want to privatize education - public education is the reason we succeeded.

To the politicians who choose unqualified people to affect our lives because you feel loyal to your party - you did not take a vow to serve a party. You
took a vow to serve the people.

To the person who believes my classmates and I are dangerous - we are human.

To the people who told me my friends and I are not beautiful - black is beautiful.

To those who believed that my peers and I would drop out - looks like you were wrong.

To everyone who voted for hate - love wins.

I could go on for hours talking about the people who defined us as something other than successful. But today is not solely about the obstacles that were placed in front of us. Today is about the truth. The fact that there were several times people underestimated us and we were able to prove them wrong. We stand here and take our diplomas not only as an act of defiance, but also as an act of gratitude. Thankful for the adults that cared, thankful for the teacher that spent hours educating us, thankful for the parents, family members, counselors, friends, politicians, and mentors that believed we could make it to this moment.

We could not have done this without you because it takes a village to raise a child.  Despite the fact that our education was treated like an experiment, lacked in resources, and was marked by the presence of people who stopped believing we were capable, we did it. In 6 years we were capable of going from a 51 percent graduation rate to a 91 percent graduation rate. Today we acknowledge the fact that our country is not equal and that we have it harder than many other people. We acknowledge that, despite this inequality, we beat the odds. We did it, and now we have the chance to not only reach our own dreams, but also to help others reach theirs.

If we were able to overcome all of these obstacles, then there is nothing that can stop us. No one that can stop us, no dream that we can’t reach, and no adversity that we cannot overcome, because in the end, they said we couldn’t, so we did, and when they say we won’t, we will. Thank you and congratulations to the class of 2017.

To listen to an interview with Ortiz on WNHH’s “Dateline New Haven,” click on or download the audio above.

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posted by: Dwightstreeter on June 30, 2017  11:15am

Let’s hope she will continue to speak the truth of her experience for the rest of her life.
More importantly, let’s hope that people from a different experience will listen and learn.

posted by: ms.mary on June 30, 2017  11:32am

CORAL
You are an amazing young lady,I meant you once a long time ago at a meeting and I was amazed then and you have been such an inspiration to many young people.you are what the education system is all about,the power to believe in yourself and prove that it can be done no matter what.i hope that after college you come back to us and help those of us who teach kids ,that no matter what they DO COME FIRST.I know we will be seeing you again .Good luck and god bless.

posted by: Bill Saunders on June 30, 2017  11:34am

Brave Speech, Coral.  Bravo!

posted by: Eric B. Smith on June 30, 2017  11:42am

Coral Ortiz for POTUS!

posted by: Latina on June 30, 2017  2:05pm

What a speech! May all people hear this truth!! God bless you always!!

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on June 30, 2017  2:40pm

The indignation as the means by which you have personally achieved alarms me. Was it really that bad?

posted by: Burnsie on June 30, 2017  11:21pm

Coral—you have impressed me more than you can imagine—your maturity and measured opinions and thoughts made a difference in our community—Thanks, Tom

posted by: GroveStreet on July 1, 2017  1:07am

Timothy,

Take some inventory of what low-income minority students face. Yes, sometimes the us against the world resonates and motivates students to succeed.

If you come from privilege and have countless opportunities, you can’t understand.

What you see as indignation, others see as resilience.

You are just another naysayer. Take the opportunity to expand your perspective and maybe you wouldn’t be ‘alarmed’ at students like Coral.

posted by: Nancyteach on July 1, 2017  8:32am

Coral,
YOU ROCK!  Congratulations to you and the class of 2017!

posted by: Soren on July 1, 2017  4:49pm

I’m sorry you’ve been feeling discriminated against so I’m glad you had an opportunity to tell everybody the truth of your feelings and perceptions.  Congratulations on your acceptance to Yale, that is because of you’re intelligence, determination and support from your parents.  Just remember, that each perceives and experiences the world differently and then we attach reasons that make sense for us. However, our thoughts are not reality based, something everybody should realize,  but simply just a thought from a self.  Someday, I encourage you to see a country of so many people of different races who also see the truth that equality has been reached and that our Declaration of Independence is not a lie and you have proven it by growing up in New Haven and going to Yale in the fall.  And your classmates are living proof that we are equal with 91% graduation rate, living proof that the Declaration of Independence is not a lie.  Again, congratulations.

posted by: Gretchen Pritchard on July 1, 2017  8:33pm

Beautiful, brave speech.

Timothy O’Rourke, go back and read it again.  Your attitude (“you must not really understand your own experience ... it can’t be what you just said it is”) is part of the problem that divides America.

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on July 2, 2017  6:56am

Hello Ms. Pritchard,

Let me start off by saying that I do not want to detract from the accomplishments of anyone. I am pleased that the young lady is going on to Yale.  I certainly do not have the aptitude to compete with the upper-middle class in that setting nor ever the opportunity.  To address your post, the graduate’s speech was brave.  Some may even say that it was provocative.  If that be the case, then there is necessarily going to be those who react to it.  My query was sincere. In civility, argument towards attaining the truth to ascertain if a consensus can be achieved, one can’t simply say that another persons’ attitude is what is wrong as that degrades the argument into quarreling.  Merely emoting that someone is wrong does not reach for the consensus for which our society has been established. Some may maintain that is what is wrong with America.  That we no longer peacefully argue but quarrel instead.  The latter being just trying to prove the other person wrong, which brings me nicely back again to my aversion to the *substance* of the speech. While I did not predicate all of the young lady’s success to indignation, the speech does seem to suggest that a good part of her agency comes from trying to prove others wrong instead of proving her issues right. That truly does alarm me, as it militates against her ever reaching for a consensus with those for whom she has offense. While proving others wrong may seem to prove her issues right, the hearts of others can only be moved when you first respect that they have a heart even if you think they did not first respect yours. This is the only way that one can prove that a offense is based on truth and not on emotion or an ideology.The resulting situation only offers the veneer of validity regarding the objective issues and does not prove them as true or even as legitimate. I personally believe they’re not and her acceptance to Yale seems to suggest that not only does society regard her as equal but elite.

posted by: Timothy G. ORourke Jr. on July 2, 2017  6:02pm

Hi Grove Street,

I am sorry that I missed your response. I hope that you had a pleasant Lord’s Day. Firstly, indignation means righteous anger.  Secondly, my family is literally below the poverty line. Finally, I would never equate “defiance” with resilience.  Bouncing back is one thing contempt is another.  Words have meanings that expose and facts are stubborn things. I am trying to figure out if the experiences listed correspond to objective reality as that relates to inequality or if the experiences listed are a utilitarian, expedient means to an end that in turn sustain an ideology that perpetually creates villains that must be overcome so that one can more easily achieve.  Is it really that bad or are we indoctrinated to think we are right that it is? That’s my question.

posted by: RHeerema on July 8, 2017  10:14am

Congratulations Coral Ortiz!!!! I am inspired by your speech and your rising leadership!! And, grateful for your commitment to public education. Thank you