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Stagg Principal Nakamura Escorted Off Campus After Impassioned Yet Controversial Speech at Graduation

May 27, 2021 at 8:51 pm

By Miriam Waldvogel

Stagg Principal Ben Nakamura

Stagg Principal Ben Nakamura

Press-Enterprise of Riverside

Departing Stagg High School Principal Ben Nakamura was escorted off campus on Thursday morning after giving an impassioned yet controversial speech at the school’s first graduation ceremony. As reported by the Stockton Record, a district official said that parents complained about the length of the speech, as well as the fact that Nakamura focused more on his personal issues with the district rather than the graduates. He was walked off for the safety of both himself and the public, the official, spokesperson Melinda Meza, said.

Video shows Nakamura speaking with a district police officer and Brian Biedermann, the former Stockton Unified superintendent and current director of educational services, after the ceremony. Nakamura appears to hand over his keys before walking off with the two men. He was not allowed to return for the following ceremonies at noon and 3 p.m. that day, where he was also set to speak. (Stagg held three graduations this year due to COVID-19 restrictions).

Meza said that speeches were not supposed to occur live to limit COVID-19 exposure, and instead be filmed and put on the school website.

Used with permission

A video of his roughly 10-minute speech on Youtube has already garnered more than 3,800 views.

Nakamura was one of a number of district employees who were cut by the district in March, and parents and staff rallied outside the district offices against his departure. He specifically addressed the 4-3 vote of the district board of trustees to remove him during the speech, saying it was done against the wishes of the community. No reason was given by the district for his dismissal.

This was Nakamura's first year with the district. He had previously been the principal at North High School in Riverside.

Read the full transcript of the speech below.


NAKAMURA: Good morning, welcome to the class of 2021 [cheers] of Amos Alonzo Stagg High School. Graduating seniors, you may now be seated.

My name is Ben Nakamura, it is a privilege and an honor to serve here as principal at the one and only Amos Alonzo Stagg High School. [clapping]

Please join me as I welcome our valedictorian, Daniel Allen Dongon, who is going to lead us in the Pledge of Allegiance. Let’s give a round of applause for Daniel. [clapping]

DONGON: please stand for the Pledge of Allegiance. I pledge allegiance, to the flag, of the United States of America. And to the republic, for which it stands, one nation, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

NAKAMURA: You may now be seated.

Beloved Amos Alonzo Stagg High School family. For our graduating seniors, we are here for one, singular purpose: To celebrate this moment with you. The moment when you cross this stage, receive your diplomas, and are recognized as high school graduates.

You represent Stockton. 209. Stagg Pride inside, all day, every day. [clapping and cheers] You represent the Delta Kings and Queens. You’re royalty. You’re royalty. Remember that.

Since many of us did not have an opportunity to meet in person, and I was only here with you one short year during this global pandemic, I’m just gonna go in right now, if I have your permission, seniors. I’ma speak to you from the heart, is that alright with you? Alright.

I’m not even gonna get close to talking to you as a principal right now. I’ma speak from my heart, as a truth teller and a freedom fighter. I’ma tell you why I came here [pause, small cheers and clapping], why I moved up from Southern California, having been very successful as a high school principal, recognized as state principal of the year, why would I come up here, to Stockton? I’m not tryna brag. Why did I leave? Why?

I came here after I saw a giant brawl outside of our school last year on the news. I’m not gonna lie, I came here because I’d seen students, whose background I might be able to identify with, that might need some guidance. Not that you’re bad in any way, but you needed a mentor, a leader. Someone in this position of influence that would see you and not judge you, but love, teach, serve, and uplift you. Be in that struggle with you, and say that we got this.

There’s a way out. It might be hard, the cards might be stacked against, the odds might not be in your favor. People in power might not have any respect for you, but we got this. We can rise. We can overcome. Since we get our education, not simply to serve ourselves, but to leave a legacy.

My goal is not simply to have a title before my name, make a bunch of money, get a lot of power. Nah, anybody can do that: a sellout, a snitch, a wannabe can do that. That’s what this whole system is designed, to try and make you successful, at the cost of selling out your family, selling out your community, and even yourself.

It’s not about success. It’s about significance. Successful people will do whatever it takes to stomp on top of others and pull them down to climb their way to the top. Where I come from, those people don’t deserve any respect.

But significant people, significance, not success, that’s few and far between. And that’s what I call you to today. Be significant. Give back to your community. Really represent your family, that struggle, that grind. The disrespect and racism that you and your people have always faced because of the color of your skin, because your parents might not be documented, because you come from a certain kind of neighborhood, in an apartment complex, from a certain kind of area. Stockton, that’s right. We represent.

And the way that we represent is by giving back. Coming back. Fight for this community, fight for your people, fight for justice and against injustice, no matter the cost. Go down in history as a real one, not a sellout. Leave a legacy for those who paved the way for you, for your ancestors, for those whose lands were stolen from them, who were forced against their will to come here in boats, chains, treated like animals, enslaved. For your own families that fled wars, their own homelands. Those who work in the fields, who hustle hard, working at the flea market, the pulga, wherever. Your families who gotta work at Jack in the Box and grocery stores. That’s what you’re called to do.

That’s why I came here. Now, I only lasted one year, while I was kicked out for one reason: That I truly love you and this community. I was kicked out. The board of trustees, this past Tuesday, voted three to four to remove me as your principal and not listen to the community, nor to the students, nor the families, nor the staff of Stagg High School.

But guess what? Stagg has changed. The staff is inspired. We bring hope and vision of what we can become. You’re that class, class of 2021. I came here to serve you, to love you, to be in the mix and the grind with you willing to die, do home visits. I’ve seen people, to be honest, I was doing a home visit down on Countryside and I saw a gentleman pulling a gun right there, put it right in his pocket right there. I’m like, “shoot, should I do this home visit?” Of course, because I love you.

But when you come from the mud, you know what I’m saying, when your mom overdosed from heroin, when your dad’s got multiple felonies on his record, when you’ve been beaten as a teenager, abused physically, and in other ways, there’s nothing you can’t overcome.

[muttered] This is my last page right here.

Dedicate your life to your family. Some of you may have already lost parents and family. Everything I do, I do for my mom. That gives me strength. She died, like I said, of that overdose when I was 12. She’s not here to see, but she gives me a level of love and empathy and courage that others here, right now I’m gonna do this, I’ma preach to you. No show, no funny, I just wanna show you where I come from and the power that I draw from, because I know that you have that inside of you.

Mom, I love you. I always tell you that every day. I dedicate this work and service to you. I know you weren’t here to see me become the man that I am, but I promise that I will continue to serve and uplift others who struggle like me.

Delta Kings and Queens, you feel that? You feel that energy and spirit? [cheers and claps] That’s the fire. [more cheering and clapping] That fire comes from within. You got that strength, you got that fire. Tap into it. Use every struggle as more fuel for that fire inside of you. That’s the fire that you got, so graduating seniors, be bold. Be strong. Take these lessons. Get every degree you can get. Work hard. Be disciplined. Wake up early. Read some books. Go on runs. Eat healthy. Get every degree you possibly can. Start speaking to the youth. Talk to your little brothers and sisters. Talk to your cousins, your nieces and nephews. Tell them focus on school. Tutor them, you know what I’m talking about?

Serve. Serve and lead by example. Don’t be a wimp. Don’t be a buster. Don’t be a sellout. Be strong young men and women of courage and valor. Rep for your neighborhood, where you come from. There’s a bigger world out there. Dream big. Dream big.

I’m honored to say I’m graduating with you today. If I could come back, I would do it the exact same way. For one year, one opportunity to serve you and to show you how much you are loved. And why are you loved so much? Because you’re valuable. You’ve got value that people don’t understand.

We paved the way for the future Delta royalty and we showed them that we can overcome anything. We set the bar. We are the bar. This graduating class, you cross the finish line in 2021 during a global pandemic, you’re a historic class. Remember that. Go forward and represent with significance. Delta Kings and Queens, Stagg pride inside, all day, every day, I love you. [cheers and claps].

Now back to the principalship. I’ma recognize every year we have a valedictorian and a salutatorian, and our valedictorian this year happens to be with us in the class right now on this stage. And so I’d like you to join me as Daniel Allen Dongon stands and give him a round of applause. [applause].

And our valedictorian, Carly Rodriguez, she will be joining us for the final ceremony, and so let’s give a round of applause for our salutatorian, sorry, Carly Rodriguez.

Now it’s my honor that you have the opportunity to hear from one of your own, from our class president. Let’s give a round of applause for Paulina Silva.