North Carolina high school gets its first Black valedictorian in 100 years

Alecia Washington is R.J. Reynolds High School's first Black valedictorian in 100 years -- Photo via Essence on Instagram

Alecia Washington’s mother praised Gwendolyn Bailey, the first Black student to attend R.J. Reynolds High School post-segregation, for laying the foundation for her daughter to write her name in the school’s history books.

No Black student had emerged as valedictorian at the North Carolina high school in 100 years, however, Washington recently made sure that was no longer the case when she walked across the stage after attaining that feat, WXII 12 reported.

Graduating last weekend as Reynolds High School’s first Black valedictorian in 100 years wasn’t her only academic accomplishment, as she also recently earned an associate’s degree from Forsyth Technical Community College.

“It’s a new chapter. I’m going into adulthood. I’m going to be living on my own in college. I’m pretty nervous about graduating, but I’m excited. I’m excited for all of my family. My little cousins see me walk across that stage,” the valedictorian said.

Washington, however, said that though she is glad she has made history, what makes her happier is how her achievement can positively impact younger Black students of her kind – particularly those from underserved communities.

“When I started thinking, this is so much bigger than me, like representation matters. I know that’s important. I know from experience, representation definitely matters. When you see somebody that looks like you, and something you want to do, or are passionate about, it makes a huge difference. It’s not something I take lightly at all,” said Washington.

She shared that she was able to reach the academic milestone through support from her school counselor and family, adding she also received an important life lesson from her great-grandmother

“If you’re going to invest in anything, invest in yourself. Invest in getting a good education and expand your knowledge because that is nothing nobody can take away,” Washington told WXII 12.

Washington’s mother also said Gwendolyn Bailey “set the foundation” for her daughter. “I think about the challenges that she faced as a student, and it made it possible for Alecia to have this title today,” she added.

During her time in high school, Washington served in many organizations that provided assistance to students and youth from deprived areas. “I was able to be a voice for those who didn’t feel like they were heard. I was able to bring that to my principal and bring that to the school board members if we wanted to make change,” she said.

The history-making valedictorian received a full academic scholarship from UNC Charlotte. She intends to further her education at the university.

Last Edited by:Annie-Flora Mills Updated: June 13, 2023


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