Graduating seniors blast school in salutatorian speech

It was an opportunity to seize the moment. Two seniors graduating at the top of their class at Universal Academy in Detroit decided to use their speeches to set the record straight. 

“Like a machine, this school is run on excuses and lies,” said Universal Academy salutatorian, Zainab Atalagni. 

 Zainab was able to get through her speech and heard sounds of cheering from the audience, but when Tuhfa Kasem, the second salutatorian, started speaking, school officials ordered the mic to be shut off. 

“I needed to finish what I had to say, so I got away from the mic and just started speaking,” Kasem said. 

A former teacher at the academy says he was shown the door when he started speaking out. 

“For speaking up and going to the board meeting about some of the lack in resources, it was eventually taken through the National Labor of Board of Relations and they settled,” said former teacher Phillip Leslie. 

Leslie, who now teaches in another district, says when he heard about what took place at the graduation ceremony, he had to speak out again. 

“It’s a question about Charter schools in Michigan and the funding system and getting them for profit operators. 

Universal Academy is also speaking out. In a statement, a representative told FOX 2 the following:

“The negative statements at the graduation ceremony are unfounded. We will continue to work hard for our students and will remain focused on their best interests. We are proud of all of our graduates and would like to wish them the best of luck in their pursuit of their college and career goals.”

The two salutatorians are off to college in the fall, but as they look ahead they say they can’t forget about the students they leave behind.

“I just really want this to ignite something in the students,” Atalagni said.