Lulabel Seitz spoke freely about her immigrant family, her dreams and even the wildfires that forced her school to close last year. But four minutes into her graduation speech, the valedictorian says her microphone was abruptly cut off when she tried to mention being sexual assaulted at school.
“Because the class of 2018 has demonstrated time and time again that we may be a new generation but we are not too young to speak up, to dream and to create change. Which is why, even when some people on this campus, those same people ….,” she told her fellow graduates last weekend before her microphone was disconnected.
The 17-year-old graduating from Petaluma High School in Petaluma, California – a city about 40 miles north of San Francisco – says she was sexually assaulted on campus by someone she knew but school administrators did not take action despite her formal complaints.
She also said that she was warned not mention it her in speech.
“They just told me to not talk about it because it wouldn’t help,” she told CNN a week after the graduation ceremony.
The Petaluma City School District released a statement saying they can’t discuss specific information about incidents due to student privacy issues, CNN affiliate KPIX reported.
“We can say that when issues of sexual assault come to our attention, local law enforcement has initial jurisdiction and determines the course of action. If an alleged event happens off campus or on, we work to support our students with appropriate discipline, extensive counseling, and whatever measures we can take to protect our students while they are in our learning environment,” the statement said.
’Let her speak’
On June 2, Seitz was wearing her white graduation gown, a lei and honor cords when she proudly took the podium during commencement. She started by recalling the students’ first days as freshmen and went on to mention the wildfires, the teacher strikes and her own family’s struggles.
“We have all had unlikely dreams and overcome obstacles to achieve them,” she said. “We have all at some point been hurt, excluded or – worst of all – ignored.”
When the microphone was disconnected, she walked to the side of the podium trying to continue her speech. A few seconds later, students and people in the crowd began chanting, “Let her speak! Let her speak!”
“I felt like I was worthless,” Seitz recalls.
Seitz had devoted four years of her life to school activities. She was a member of the student government, and she played trumpet in jazz band. She kept a GPA over 4.0 and participated in science competitions.
After Seitz was named valedictorian, school administrators reviewed a draft of her speech and warned her several times about changing it. They even pulled her out of her very last class in high school to remind her, she says.
But watching videos of Martin Luther King Jr. speeches on the night before commencement, she recalls, inspired her to speak up.
Seitz’s mom encouraged her to record a video of the speech she intended to give. With the help of her family, she stood in front of a camera reading her speech and posted it to YouTube the day after graduation.
“The Petaluma High School administration infringed on my freedom of speech, and prevented a whole graduating class from having their message delivered,” she wrote on YouTube. “For weeks, they have threatened me against ‘speaking against them’ in my speech. Sometimes we know what’s right and have to do it despite the threats.”
Seitz, who is heading to Stanford University in the fall to double major in applied mathematics and economics, said her speech was not only about her or her friends.
“This is about the bigger problem, not only about what I experienced. It was for everyone,” she said.
Actress Mira Sorvino, who has accused Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment, praised Seitz for speaking up.
“Lulabel Seitz is a fierce truth teller and they tried to silence her- don’t you understand sexual assault victims will be silenced no more????” she wrote on Twitter.
CNN’s Susannah Cullinane contributed to this report.