North Carolina high school student becomes school’s first Black valedictorian

"When I started thinking, I'm like, 'This is so much bigger than me,' like representation matters,” Alecia Washington said. 

A North Carolina student is celebrating an outstanding achievement after becoming Valedictorian at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina.

Alecia Washington is the first African American student to obtain the high honor in 100 years, WXII 12 News reports. Over the weekend, she completed her second graduation in the past two months. Washington recently graduated from Forsyth Technical Community College with an associate’s degree. 

Screenshot North Carolina h.s. student is school's first Black valedictorian
Screenshot of Alecia Washington, the first African American valedictorian at R.J. Reynolds High School in 100 years. (Source: WXII 12 News)

“It’s a new chapter,” she told the news outlet ahead of her high school graduation ceremony this past weekend. “I’m going into adulthood. I’m going to be living on my own in college,” Washington added. 

Washington attributes her achievement to her school counselor, Cristen Wiley, who advocated on her behalf, according to WXII 12 News. The teenager said she is more excited about the impact her historic achievement can have on younger students. 

“When I started thinking, I’m like, ‘This is so much bigger than me,’ like representation matters,” she told WXII 12 News. 

Washington was active in several organizations throughout high school that helped students and youth in underserved communities, including the Ebon Society. She also served as vice president of the Student Government Association. As part of her work with Youth Grant Makers in Action, Washington helped create grants for student-led organizations, according to WXII 12 News.

The teen said she was “a voice” for the voiceless. 

Washington will attend UNC Charlotte on a full academic scholarship. She intends to study medicine and become a pediatric nurse anesthetist, WXII 12 News reports. 

Lavonya Washington, Washington’s mother, said her daughter’s valedictorian title made her reflect on the first African American student to attend R.J. Reynolds High School after segregation.

“Her name was Gwendolyn Bailey. She set the foundation for Alecia,” the proud mom told WXII 12 News. 

“I think about the challenges that she faced as a student, and it made it possible for Alecia to have this title today,” Lavonya Washington added. 

The student said the key lessons she learned from her great-grandmother were “invest in yourself” and “expand your knowledge,” Washington told WXII 12 News.

“If you’re going to invest in anything, invest in yourself. Invest in getting a good education and expanding your knowledge because that is something nobody can take away,” Washington said of her great-grandmother’s advice.

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