Every year since its first senior class graduated in 2010, the Urban Assembly School for the Performing Arts has opened its commencement ceremony with a rendition of “The Star-Spangled Banner,” sung by a talented student handpicked by the school’s music staff.
This year the new coronavirus has forced the New York City school to hold a virtual commencement on June 26, but the singing tradition continues. Liana Morales, a 16-year-old junior, was chosen in March to pre-record her own rendition for the ceremony.
Ms. Morales, an Afro-Latina, said she was honored to be selected. But after the killing of George Floyd, she refused to sing America’s national anthem. Instead she asked if she could perform “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing,” a hymn widely known as the black national anthem.
“With everything that’s happening, if I stand there and sing it, I’m being complicit to a system that has oppressed people of color,” she recalled telling school staff about “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Urban Assembly principal Meghan McMahon said that she and her staff approved the change after the senior class declared “resounding” support for Ms. Morales in a virtual town-hall meeting.
Ms. McMahon said the decision reflects Urban Assembly’s culture as “an anti-racist school,” where staff members have organized “a race equity team” and affinity circles to support “black and brown students and staff.”