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Ed. Note: Neptune Public Schools has been featured in NJ Ed Report over the last two weeks because we received a copy of a letter sent to the school board from a mother of a graduating senior. The mother, Sonia Kinney (who didn’t send the copy), wanted the board to know her daughter’s scheduled speech had been “cancelled” by Superintendent Tami Crader who allegedly was afraid of “bad press” generated by the young woman’s narrative of sexual assault and bullying. NJER published an interview with Ms. Kinney earlier this week.
Ms. Kinney’s daughter Teresa is determined to tell her story. Today, with her permission, we publish the original speech Teresa was scheduled to make as Poseidon Valedictorian at the Neptune High School graduation ceremony, based on her exemplary academic record. (The Poseidon Early College High School is a program for students who would the first in their family to attend college.) On Monday we’ll publish an essay by Teresa who more fully shares her journey.
Hi, my name is Teresa Kinney-Bastedo, and I am the valedictorian of the graduated Poseidon class of 2023. My freshman year I took an introductory class for Brookdale and one of our assignments was to write a letter to our future senior selves. At the end of the letter I wrote, “be brave, Teresa.” So right here, on this stage in front of all my classmates, administration, faculty, friends, and family, I choose to be brave. Instead of giving what you guys expect from me, which is a speech about how amazing these four years have been and bragging about myself, I’ll be telling you my true experience. Everyone graduating tonight deserves to share their story of high school, no matter if it was the best, worst, or somewhere in between times of their lives.
These four years have been anything but what people have told me it would be. My freshman year I was raped, sexually assaulted, and harassed by fellow classmates. When I came to terms with the trauma I experienced and spoke up about it, no one believed me. However, I still continued to speak up about the sexual assault I endured but also what I witnessed happening to my fellow classmates. Since I chose to speak up about a topic that was “so detrimental” to a boy’s image, I started to experience bullying. I was called a slut, manipulative, psychotic. These were things being said to my face, through text, and posted all over social media. It was as if I could not escape it. I was being bullied because I decided to take a stand and speak out about the injustice I saw. People believed they could bully me into being quiet; they were wrong.
All of this happened from the span of freshman year to the end of junior year. The only reason any of this stopped was because this past year I did everything I could not to be involved with the high school, which is unlike me because ever since I was little I have always been involved in the school and so has my family. I used to volunteer to help at every event, was in every club, took all of the hardest classes, played multiple sports. That all changed though after my freshman year. Slowly, I stopped volunteering and going to club meetings, dropped any extra courses, and did the bare minimum to acquire my associates degree from Brookdale [Community College]. My senior year was spent at the Brookdale campus, the gym, or at work. I didn’t go to any football games, I didn’t play in powder puff, I didn’t go on my senior trip. To many that may sound like an awful senior year and that I missed out on a lot of quintessential memories. For me though, it was the space I needed to be able to grow and rise above my fellow classmates. I am a different woman than I was from the start of senior year. I am stronger and have used what has happened to me as fuel to persevere.
Just because I did not press charges or file a [Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying] complaint does not minimize what I experienced. I am finding my own way of creating the justice I deserve, which is through advocacy. I am not choosing to share my story because I want others to pity me. I am deciding to share my story because I want people to be aware that high school is not amazing for everyone and that, for the people that also had an awful time, I see and grieve with you. I am doing it for all the victims here tonight because no one deserves to have a high school experience like I did.
Although I have gone through many traumatic experiences, it has helped mold me into the woman I am today. That is why I want to acknowledge the traumatic experiences I endured. What I went through was awful and nothing I wish upon another person, however, because of it I found my love for advocacy. I do not want to confuse others for thinking I am thanking the nine boys who sexually assaulted and bullied me. What they did was unacceptable and will never be the reason for my success. I would like to thank the three incredible women in my life that are in the audience today. They are the reason I am the powerhouse I am and will continue to be. My mother Sonia Kinney, my two grandmothers Josephine Bastedo and Chong Sun Kinney. But most importantly I want to recognize and congratulate myself. People do not realize how hard I have had to work to get where I am today. I come from a low-income family and have known since I was little that if I wanted anything I had to work twice as hard as anyone else. I am self-made; my accomplishments are mine and no one else’s. No one can take credit for how I have turned out and a lot of other people cannot say the same.
I know what I am capable of and what I bring to the table. That is why I will be continuing my education at a baby Ivy, Middlebury College, where I will be double-majoring in women studies and political science. A college that empowers me instead of trying to quiet me. Not everyone believes there is a career in women’s studies, but for those of you that believe that, you are wrong. The future is female. There is no better representation of that than the women we are recognizing tonight, your two valedictorians, Candace Howe and myself, two minority women who come from diverse backgrounds. Nothing is more beautiful than that. I will continue to uplift and empower other women because we are the faces of change.