A Georgia school director who singled out "all the black people" at a graduation ceremony defended herself on Monday, telling NBC News that she doesn't understand the furor over her comments.
"I'm not racist. I didn't know 'black people' was a racist term," said Nancy Gordeuk, the director of TNT Academy in Stone Mountain. "I didn't say the N-word or anything like that 'cause that isn't in my vocabulary."
At the graduation ceremony, Gordeuk reprimanded audience members for leaving before the valedictorian could speak. "Look who's leaving — all the black people," she said.
"When I looked up, all I saw was black families leaving, and thus the comment," she told NBC News.
"People always think the worst, you know," she said. "You say the word 'black,' you know. Was I supposed to say African-American? Were they all born in Africa? No, they're Americans."
Gordeuk, a longtime teacher who said she had been at TNT Academy for 15 years, also apologized for her comments. "I lost control and spit out the words that do not even seem like they came from me. However, the devil works in various ways.
"Frustrated with the prospect of ruining the once-in-a-lifetime ceremony the graduates have worked so hard for, my emotions got the best of me and that is when I blurted out 'you people are being so rude to not listen to this speech,'" Gordeuk wrote in an apology letter, according to NBC News. "I deeply apologize for my actions made in the emotional state of trying to let this last student finish his speech."
Shakel Forman, a mother of one of the graduates, told NBC Owned Stations that Gordeuk had accidentally dismissed the audience before the valedictorian could make his speech.
Gordeuk said she was initially irked by an unidentified man who walked to the front of the auditorium and began recording the ceremony, taking selfies with the graduates in the front row of the audience.
Forman said Gordeuk told the man to stop because the Valedictorian was going to speak. "I said, you're being rude and disrespectful to this young man," she told NBC News.
After the man ignored her request, she asked police to remove the man from the ceremony.
"Once the police came in, everybody was kinda thrown off for her even asking for the actual police to come in to remove him, so the crowd was already agitated," Forman said. "It wasn't that serious."
After asking police to come escort the man out of the ceremony, Gordeuk made the comment.
“That’s when it got chaotic, and everything went downhill from there,” Forman said.
TNT Academy says on its website that it is a "non-traditional educational center" that allows middle and high school students to engage in independent study.
The school is accredited by the Georgia Accrediting Commission, which did not immediately respond to a call for comment.