Way to go Alecia Washington! The high school senior has become the first Black valedictorian at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, N.C., in its 100-year history.
“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 passionate about, it makes a huge difference. It’s not something I take lightly at all,” Washington told WXII Channel 12, an NBC affiliate in Winston-Salem.
When Washington’s mother, Lavonya Washington, learned of her daughter’s achievement, it brought great emotion as she says she remembers Gwendolyn Bailey, the first African-American student to grace the halls of the high school after desegregation started in the 1960s.
“Her name was Gwendolyn Bailey. She set the foundation for Alecia. I think about the challenges that she faced as a student, and it made it possible for Alecia to have this title today,” Lavonya expressed, according to the outlet.
Alecia Washington is thankful for the village that made the unimaginable possible, including her school counselor Cristen Wiley and her great-grandmother, who taught her an important lesson.
“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 recalls her great-grandmother saying, per WXII.
Washington is living by example. In recent months, she also earned an associate’s degree from local Forsyth Technical Community College.
Looking ahead, she will be attending the University of North Carolina – Charlotte on a full scholarship. Her planned educational pursuits will support her aspirations to become a pediatric nurse anesthetist, she says.
Washington will leave a lasting impact on Reynolds High School. While at the school, she was involved in a number of organizations dedicated to helping underserved students and communities. Among her involvements, she was in the Ebon Society and Youth Grant Makers in Action, which created grants for student-run organizations; she also served as vice president of the Student Government Association.
“I was able to be a voice for those who didn’t feel like they were heard,” Washington expressed, according to the outlet. “I was able to bring that to my principal and bring that to the school board members if we wanted to make change.”