Mid-Alabama high school valedictorians celebrated a milestone last spring by graduating at the top of their class. What advice do they have for this year’s rising seniors?
The Ed Lab spoke to seven top students from Birmingham-area high schools who graduated with the class of 2022. They include:
- Kylan Benson, from Birmingham, who moved in with his grandmother to attend a good school.
- Kate Boone, from Homewood, who wants to study chemistry.
- Jessica Garcia Cruz, from Birmingham, who wants to become a nurse.
- Ebony Woods, from Birmingham, who wants to study psychology.
- Will Gasser of Hoover, who earned valedictorian status after a challenge.
- Briana Rowell, from Birmingham, who wants to work in human resources.
- Abby Hollis, from Gardendale, who wants to study accountancy.
According to the Alabama Statewide Student Database and the Alabama State Department of Education, 46% of high school graduates enrolled in public colleges in Alabama in the fall of 2021. PARCA noted that college attendance declined by 11%. between 2014 and 2020. The graduation rate (defined as students who enroll in 9th grade and graduate in Alabama in 2021 was nearly 91%.
Ramsay High School
Ramsay High School valedictorian Kylan Benson offered insight into how to overcome challenges no matter the sacrifice. He recalled the commute he made each morning after moving in with his grandmother to be closer to the Ramsay school zone.
“My family was carless during my high school years. I wanted to go to Ramsay because I knew it would give me a great education. However, my zoned school was closer to home and easier to get to,” said said Benson. “Ultimately, I had to make a decision: go to school near my house or move in with my grandmother across town so I could take the bus and stay. at Ramsay I had to think about what I valued: my education or staying in my comfort zone.
After making that tough decision, Benson explained that things didn’t necessarily get any easier, but that didn’t mean the choice wasn’t worth it. He also didn’t shy away from mentioning that even bad choices are part of the journey and that those moments are just as important for growing up.
“I’m no stranger to making bad choices. This year, I earned more than my fair share. Bad choices are a natural part of life, we all make them from time to time,” Benson said. “When we make those bad choices, we need to reflect on them and extract bits of wisdom that will guide us not to make the same choice again. Sometimes knowing what not to do is just as important as knowing what to do. Bad choices are a net positive if you learn from them.
Benson decided to go to Harvard University this fall to study business with an emphasis on international relations.
Homewood High School
Homewood High School’s Kate Boone had the highest GPA among recognized honor graduates in her class. She reflected on the importance of engaging with people who may not look like you or live like you, because you can still learn a lot from them. She encouraged students to take the small things lightly in the grand scheme of their overall journey.
“[I]One thing high school taught me is that life goes on. None of us really know what he’s doing, and we probably won’t know for a while. All the little things that probably felt like the end of the world at one point don’t mean anything now,” Boone said.
“…The reality is that our time at Homewood is only a very small part of our journey. Anne Franke once said, “What a wonderful thought it is that some of the best days of our lives haven’t even happened yet”, and I think it’s the perfect quote to wrap up our years while looking back with impatient eyes towards the future. .”
Boone leaves Homewood to pursue a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the University of Georgia.
G. W. Carver High School
Jessica Garcia Cruz, valedictorian of GW Carver High School, spoke proudly of her own heritage as well as the accomplishments of marginalized students. She will attend Berea University this fall and major in nursing.
“I’m proud of the things I’ve accomplished and I want to be a living testimony to how hard work, resilience and consistency can propel you forward in life. I want other young people, Mexican, Latino, Black and other young women of color strive for excellence despite gender and racial bias,” Garcia Cruz said. “I want other young girls to walk tall and step into academic and professional spaces confidently and do so shamelessly.”
Wenonah High School
Ebony Woods, the valedictorian of Wenonah High School, believes in pushing beyond all limits imposed by others – and even those we impose on ourselves. “We hear too often that the sky is the limit, but it’s not true. You are only limited by what you submit to,” Woods said. “You must not allow yourself or anyone else to create a barrier between you and your goals.
Woods also believes that ultimately the direction a student wants to take their life is up to them. There may be expectations their families have for the path they choose, but she encourages students to be whoever they want.
“You don’t have to be the next doctor, lawyer or architect, but you do have to fulfill your destiny and leave behind a precious legacy,” she said.
Woods will be moving to Emory University this fall to pursue a bachelor’s degree in psychology.
Spain Park Secondary School
Will Gasser of Spain Park High School admitted that his valedictorian title was the result of a challenge from a friend of his. “Sophomore year…I was sitting next to my friend in class, wondering if I should take all the AP classes so I could potentially have the highest GPA,” Gasser said. “Then he looked at me, and what he said I will never forget. He said, ‘You can’t do it, you can’t be number one in the class.’ So I got my course selection sheet, added an extra AP class, and said, “I’m playing.”
He found no joy in proving his friend wrong out of spite, but instead felt gratitude for the journey that his friend’s doubt and his own determination took him on. “To my friend, the one who questioned and challenged my abilities, thank you,” Gasser said. “Although our interaction may have meant little to you, the lesson you taught me is of immeasurable value. Your self-doubt drove me to success and taught me beauty of perseverance.
Gasser will attend Auburn University and major in aerospace engineering with a minor in computer science.
Gardendale High School
Abby Hollis advised rising seniors to have clear goals and practical ways to achieve them.
“Don’t lose sight of your senior year. Set goals for your future and work hard throughout the year to make sure you achieve them,” she said. “Engage in your high school and look ahead to see what you could do to prepare for the next chapter of your journey.”
Hollis had the highest GPA at Gardendale High School and will attend the University of Alabama at Birmingham this fall to major in accounting.
Woodlawn High School
Last but not least, the Woodlawn High School valedictorian wanted students to remember that it’s okay to be different and not everyone will understand their journey, but that doesn’t mean they have to give it up.
“Embrace your journey! Don’t seek approval from others about your future desires. Not everyone will understand your plans and a lot of people have ideas about how they think your life should go,” Briana Rowell said. “Keep encouraging people who bring out the best in you, while helping you expand your horizons. Don’t give up and embrace who you are!
Rowell will also attend UAB in the fall and study human resource management.