Salute to the Class of 2013 May 25, 2013
Mission Accomplished! DeKalb graduates rack up honors, scholarships
Ken Watts / CrossRoadsNews
Steven Mulbah shows off his diploma from the DeKalb Early College Academy. DECA’s 36 graduates earned college credits or associate degrees from Georgia Perimeter College along with diplomas.
Curtis Parker / CrossRoadsNews
Newbern Reynolds / Special
Miller Grove High, whose graduation ceremony took place May 22 at the Georgia Dome, had a senior class of 321 students.
Valedictorian Valencia Johnson (center) leads Towers High seniors into the gym for their pre-commencement ceremony.
Jessica Smith / CrossRoadsNews
\DeKalb School of the Arts graduates perform for their classmates at their precommencement exercise on May 17.
Jessica Smith / CrossRoadsNews
Clarkston High’s senior class, which numbered 223, was scheduled to march on May 23 at Hallford Stadium.
Jessica Smith / CrossRoadsNews
McNair High seniors share a moment at pre-commencement exercises. The class graduated on May 21.
Ken Watts / CrossRoadsNews
Graduates line up at Lithonia High’s precommencement ceremony.
May 25, 2013
Keep striving, graduates. You’ve already proven that you have the tools necessary to accomplish great things.
Turn this success into a lifetime of successess Established 1995 2346 Candler Road Decatur, GA 30032 404-284-1888 Fax: 404-284-5007 www.crossroadsnews.com email@example.com
The 2013 Graduation Special Section is a publication of CrossRoadsNews Inc., South DeKalb’s award-winning community newspaper. Editor / Publisher Jennifer Parker
Reporters Jessica Smith Ken Watts Jennifer Ffrench Parker
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By Michael Thurmond Interim superintendent, DeKalb County Schools
It is with pride and gratitude that I offer my congratulations to the 2013 graduating class of the DeKalb County Schools. I’m proud because it is no easy task these days to earn the right to walk across the graduation stage. And I’m grateful because our graduates and their families deserve our thanks for their hard work and determination to stay the course and finish the race. It is those qualities – hard work and determination – that I ask our graduates to apply to their next task, whether that next step is on a college campus, working a new job, or acquiring a technical skill. By graduating high school, our grads have carved a path for their future far brighter than if they hadn’t walked across the stage. The skills they used to earn that diploma – hard work and determination – are the same skills they can apply to excel in a college career, in honing a new
“A DeKalb County high school diploma opens the doors to new learning opportunities throughout our community, state and nation. A DeKalb County diploma means that you are a closer, and not a quitter – it means that you finish what you start.” Michael Thurmond
skill or going to work at a new job. And we know they’re up to the challenge. A DeKalb County high school diploma opens the doors to new learning opportunities throughout our community, state and nation. A DeKalb County diploma means that you are a closer, and not a quitter – it means that you finish what you start. A DeKalb County diploma means that you are ready for the rigors of college academics or the technical points of learning a new skill. And today’s graduates need only look at past DeKalb graduates for examples of success. They are employers and job creators, teachers, lawyers and doctors, entrepreneurs and leaders in
every walk of life. Today’s graduates join a long procession of distinguished and productive citizens. With youthful enthusiasm and an optimistic outlook toward the future, they’ll acquire the skills necessary to become productive citizens and make our community and society a better place to live, work and play. Keep striving, graduates. You’ve already proven that you have the tools necessary to accomplish great things. Set your sights on your goals, believe you can accomplish them – and you’ll turn this success into a lifetime of successes. Congratulations!
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May 25, 2013
“It’s not going to be easy. You are going to be tested, but testing makes you stronger.”
Class of 2013 celebrates milestone in a tumultous year By Ken Watts
As the Class of 2013 marches to strains of Pomp and Circumstance while family and friends roar their approval at graduation ceremonies through May 26, its graduates know a world of new opportunities awaits. Interim Superintendent Michael Thurmond says it is no easy task these days to earn the right to walk across the graduation stage. “By graduating high school, our grads have carved a path for their future far brighter than if they hadn’t walked across the stage,” he writes in a graduation message to the class. “The skills they used to earn that diploma – hard work and determination – are the same skills they can apply to excel in a college career, in honing a new skill or going to work at a new job.” The senior class sizes ranged from as few as six at Margaret Harris Comprehensive to 401 at Lakeside High. Altogether, 5,771 are up for high school diplomas and certificates this year, down from 5,932 seniors in 2012. Just three years ago, DeKalb’s senior class was 6,130. The final number of 2013 seniors who will get diplomas wasn’t available at press time Thursday. The class departs the DeKalb School System at a time of great turmoil. The district is entering its sixth month on accreditation probation, placed there by its accrediting agency – the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools – for governance and other issues. Six of nine members of the School Board who are releasing their diplomas this week were appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal, while the district’s elected board members removed from office by Deal are awaiting word on their fate. As in the past, there are compelling stories of personal triumph over adversity among this year’s graduates such as Southwest DeKalb’s Coreyonna Welch who battled ovarian cancer to complete her senior year, rise to the top of her class, and become valedictorian. And there’s Stone Mountain’s valedictorian Cyrianne Keutcha who spoke little English when she arrived in DeKalb from Cameroon with her family just four years ago but is now top of her class with a 3.987 GPA. As the graduates, their families and friends pack stadiums, colleges and the Georgia Dome for one of life’s most important milestones, they will be challenged by their class valedictorians and salutatorians, high-profile speakers from business and government, elected officials, and Deal to make the best of the opportunities ahead. In her valedictory speech at their May 26 graduation at the Georgia Dome, Southwest DeKalb High magnet valedictorian Brittany Williams says she will tell her classmates that it’s time to get more focused. “Graduation is just the beginning of the rest of our lives,” she said. “We’re responsible for making our own decisions now and we won’t have our parents to hold our hands anymore.” Willie James Moody, Miller Grove’s valedictorian, will tell his classmates that success depends on much more than hard work. “They have to have the ‘will’ and the ‘hunger’ that drives them forward and makes it possible to achieve goals,” he said. Last Sunday, inspiration speakers who included clergy, public officials, community leaders, and graduates of their school offered praise, insight and advice to help usher them into the next phase of their education and their lives. At its May 19 pre-commencement service, motivational speaker Keith L. Brown told Stephenson High’s seniors to be true to their own principles and avoid letting others influence their core beliefs. He also gave advice on meeting and overcoming life’s challenges, both personal and professional.
Graduates like these at Martin Luther King Jr. High are embarking on new journeys at colleges, universities, vocational schools and the workforce.
Curtis Parker / CrossRoadsNews
Pomp and Circumstance
Countywide, 5,771 DeKalb County seniors will pick up diplomas and certificates of attendance at commencement exercises through May 26. 2013 Graduating Classes
School Graduates Arabia Mountain High School 395 Cedar Grove High School 199 Chamblee Charter High School 284 Clarkston High School 223 Columbia High School 247 Cross Keys High School 150 DeKalb Alternative School 8 DeKalb Early College Academy 36 DeKalb School of the Arts 55 Destiny Achievers Academy 38 Druid Hills High School 388 Dunwoody High School 334 East DeKalb Campus 2 East DeKalb Special Services 1 Elizabeth Andrews High School 267 Gateway to College Academy 25 Lakeside High School 401 Lithonia High School 261 Margaret Harris Comprehensive 6 Martin Luther King Jr. High School 351 McNair High School 150 Miller Grove High School 321 Redan High School 281 Southwest DeKalb High School 336 Stephenson High School 315 Stone Mountain High School 197 Towers High School 193 Tucker High School 307 Total 5,771
“Don’t ever think ‘impossible,’” Brown said. “Think ‘I’m possible.’” Pastor Jeffrey Wallace of Peace Baptist Church sounded similar themes speaking to Redan High’s seniors. He urged the young men and women to be independent in their assessment of the world and to courageously blaze their own path in life. Cedar Grove High graduates invited back their 2009 valedictorian Denisha Thomas to speak to them at their pre-commencement service. Thomas, who is graduating this year with an engineering degree from North Carolina A&T, told them never think that they are not good enough. “There is an abundance of potential in this world,” said Thomas, who garnered $1 million in scholarship offers during her senior year at the Title 1 school. “You can be a black engineer. You can own your own legal business. It’s not going to be easy. You are going to be tested, but testing makes you stronger.” As the Class of 2013 graduates, School Board members believe better times are ahead for the district as they work to meet the SACS required actions. Appointed member Thad Mayfield, who represents District 9, will release diplomas at Martin Luther King Jr. High, Arabia Mountain and Southwest DeKalb on Saturday and Sunday. He said graduates will see increasing opportunity in the Georgia job market. “I’m optimistic about their chances,” Mayfield said. “The economy is beginning to show what it will look like moving forward, and it appears graduates will have more educational and career options.” Mayfield said that they are seeing growth in the number of specialized technology schools that offer a path to highpaying skilled tech jobs for students who prefer to enter the job market immediately and possibly attend a four-year university later. The planned $652 million deepening of the Port of Savannah will attract new supersized cargo ships that are expected to begin arriving through an expanded Panama Canal in 2015. Mayfield said the cargo traffic will bring more global commerce to Georgia and increased international job opportunities to the state, especially metro Atlanta. Thurmond says that a DeKalb County high school diploma opens the doors to new learning opportunities throughout the community, state and nation. “A DeKalb County diploma means that you are a closer, and not a quitter,” he says. “It means that you finish what you start.”
May 25, 2013
“We decided to take it and multiply it and ask our partners for help. … We don’t do this alone. This is the power of partnership.”
DeKalb Education Scholarship Fund benefits 26 graduates By Jennifer Ffrench Parker
Twenty-six DeKalb students are headed this fall to colleges and universities with a total of $130,000 from the newly created DeKalb County Education Scholarship Fund to help pay for their education. Each student got a check for $5,000, good for tuition, books and other school expenses. At a May 14 awards ceremony in Fernbank Museum of Natural History’s Great Hall overlooked by life-size replicas of dinosaurs, museum CEO Susan Nugent told scholarship recipients who are graduating this week that everyone is proud of their determination to build a better world. “The community stands behind you and is expecting great things of you,” she said. The scholarships were the inaugural awards from the fund created by DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis with $5,000 he won from the National Association of Counties. Ellis said he could have given five students $1,000 each or 10 students $500 each. Instead, he called on the DeKalb Chamber of Burrell Ellis Commerce, businesses and organizations Curtis Parker / CrossRoadsNews asking them to match his $5,000 and help Recipients of the first DeKalb County Education Scholarships stand to be recognized during the May 14 awards reception in the Fernbank Museum more graduates. “We decided to take it and multiply it of Natural History’s Great Hall. Each student received a $5,000 scholarships donated by a range of businesses and organisations. and ask our partners for help,” he said. “Evschools and will attend colleges from Georgia erybody we called said the same thing – yes. Piedmont in Clarkston to Boston University Money for college We don’t do this alone. This is the power of and FAMU. Their studies will include busipartnership.” ness, political science, nursing, engineering, For its inaugural award, the new DeKalb County Education Scholarship Fund Those stepping up to the plate to supmusic, criminal justice, premed, psychology, awarded $130,000 to 26 students from the Class of 2013. More than 135 students had port the education fund included Siemens biology, chemistry and computers. applied. Corp., NACo, Agnes Scott College, APD More than 135 seniors applied for the Each student received a $5,000 scholarship. Here are the recipients: Solutions, Chick-fil-A Foundation, Cocaopportunity. Awards were based on financial Student High School College Attending Cola Refreshments, Crawford Investment need and merit. Akash Shah Chamblee Charter University of Georgia Counsel, Earnest Partners LLC, the Edgar Thurmond said he is extremely proud Lomax Co., Emory University, Fernbank Alexis Pointer Cedar Grove Georgia Tech of the students who sacrificed much and Museum of Natural History, Fuqua Develworked so hard to become successful during Coreyonna Welch SW DeKalb University of West Georgia opment, GAMCO Asset Management, Gas their educational careers. Erin Shyr Lakeside Boston University South, Georgia-Pacific Foundation, Georgia “They are the best and the brightest and Fahad Fahad Columbia Georgia State University Piedmont Technical College, Georgia Power, they represent the next generation of leadFeven Laine Tucker Emory University Hewlett-Packard, Kaiser Permanente, the ers who’ve transformed this county, this Kroger Co., Montag and Caldwell, The Giang Ha Dunwoody Emory University state, and this nation, and even the world,” Champion Newspaper, Newell Rubbermaid Irma Hadziahmetovic Clarkston Ga. Piedmont Tech. College he said. Inc., Oglethorpe Power, Piper Jaffray, PNC, Silverman said that neither government Ja’Haun Freeman-Clark Cedar Grove Oglethorpe University Publix Charities, Selig Enterprises, Silvernor businesses can do it all. Janeilia Hamilton Clarkston Alabama State University man Construction Program Management, “So by working together, I believe that Jerusalem Mbungu DECA Georgia State University SunTrust Banks Inc., UPS, Walmart, and we leverage those efforts and give some kids Justice Zamir-Brewer Bryant Arabia Mtn. Coastal College of Georgia Wells Fargo. an opportunity that they never would have Scholarships will be awarded annually. Kaelynn Graham M.L. King Jr. Jackson State University had,” he said. Ellis, chamber board Chair Arnie SilverSilverman, who is CEO of Decatur-based Kearia Banks Stephenson Georgia Tech man, and DeKalb Schools interim SuperinSilverman Construction, sponsored the Kyshuna Frazier Lithonia FAMU tendent Michael Thurmond presented the $5,000 scholarship awarded to Miller Grove Malik Robinson-Samuel Clarkston Ga. Piedmont Tech. College awards to the high school seniors who are graduate Willie James Moody, who will be Michelle Price Columbia Georgia State University headed to two- and four-year colleges, unistudying engineering at Campbell University Miya Searcy Towers Ga. Piedmont Tech. College versities and vocational training programs in Buies Creek, N.C. He said the scholarships in the fall. Nicholas J. Crosby SW DeKalb Kennesaw State University help students get funding and help compaAmong the recipients are Southwest nies create potential employees. Rainbow Williams Druid Hills Kennesaw State University DeKalb resident valedictorian Coreyonna “It’s a win-win for everyone,” Silverman Ramon Wyndell Johnson Tucker Morehouse College Welch, who battled ovarian cancer during said. Rana Alkhshali Druid Hills Agnes Scott College her first and second semester; Lakeside High Ellis said he was led to create the scholarShayanna Bonner Redan Savannah State University graduate Erin Shyr, who founded a nonprofit ship fund because every year the county gets to help kids; and Tucker High’s Ramon JohnThayvez Davenport Towers Bethune-Cookman University calls from distressed parents seeking money son, who has completed 300 hours of comWhitney Grier Miller Grove Albany State University to send their kids to college. munity service. “This year we answered the call 26 times,” Willie James Moody Miller Grove Campbell University The recipients come from 19 DeKalb high he said.
Congratulations to the Class of 2013 As you embark on your next phase of life’s journey, we encourage you to go out and make a better world. Please work to improve the quality of life in our county, our state and in America. “Working for DeKalb, Working for Communities, Working for YOU!” 1300 Commerce Drive, 5th Floor • Decatur, GA 30030 • 404-371-3681 • www.dekalbcountyga.gov
Congratulations Class of 2013 We applaud your accomplishments!
State Rep. Pamela Stephenson House District 92
May 25, 2013
“I was sitting right there in the fourth row from the front. I was so excited to be that close to the president.” India Ali, Omari Crawford and Sikenah Baxter received law degrees on May 11 from North Carolina Central University School of Law in Durham.
BaSix Knowledge Academy, a nontraditional school in Decatur, held its graduation ceremony at Ray of Hope Christian Church.
BaSix awards diplomas to 166 students One hundred and sixty-six students got their high school diplomas on May 23 from BaSix Knowledge Academy in Decatur. The nontraditional school serves teens to adults who didn’t get diplomas in high schools and returned to school to improve their chance of getting better jobs. Since its launch 16 years ago, the school has graduated more than 1,000 students who have gone on to attend major
Lithonia dad, two sons don cap and gown Graduation over here! Graduation over there! That’s what it feels like in the Joyner family of Lithonia as father Dorian Joyner Sr. and two of his sons, Dorian Jr. and Jamil, don cap and gown and Dorian Joyner Sr. march to Pomp and Circumstance this season. Joyner and Dorian Jr. were among those who graduated on May 19 from Morehouse College, and youngest son Jamil graduated May 24 from Chamblee Charter High. Joyner said it was a Dorian Joyner Jr. real thrill to see President Barack Obama, who delivered the commencement address at Morehouse. “I was sitting right there in the fourth row from the front,” said Joyner, who got a B.A. in religion. “I was so excited to be that close to the Jamil Joyner president.” Across the aisle was ex-U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, also a Morehouse man. “I got a picture with him,” he said. Joyner said he was more excited for his son, who got a B.A. in English and wants to be a film producer after the Peace Corps. “Being the parent, I was more happy for him,” he said. The elder Joyner, 46, was an honor student in 1984 when he first entered Morehouse to pursue a double major in religion and psychology, but life intervened. He left college in 1988 in his senior year to start a family. Over the past 25 years, he made a good career designing computer databases but always felt he had unfinished business. He returned to Morehouse in 2010, where Dorian Jr., now 23, was studying. On May 26, Joyner celebrates 30 years in ministry; his mother, Leatha Camen, turns 80 in September; and in December, he and wife Angela will celebrate their 25th anniversary. “This a huge year for our family,” Joyner said. “We are celebrating a lot.” Jamil is following dad and big brother’s footsteps and will be a Morehouse man. He was awarded a scholarship and will study biology on his way to becoming a doctor.
colleges and universities and joined military branches and the work force across the United States. The 2013 graduation, held at Ray of Hope Christian Church, was the school’s eighth ceremony. Jeremy Henry, a rising senior at Morehouse College and a 2009 BaSix graduate, delivered the commencement address. For more information on the school, visit www.basix knowledgeacademy.com.
Southwest DeKalb grads earn degrees in law Southwest DeKalb alumni India Ali, Sikenah Baxter and Omari Crawford got their law degrees on May 11 from North Carolina Central University School of Law. Crawford and Ali got joint degrees – Juris Doctor/M.B.A. – and Baxter got a Juris Doctor degree. The three coincidentally ended up at the Durham, N.C., law school after Crawford and Baxter earned undergraduate degrees at Florida A&M University. Ali got her undergraduate degree from Hofstra University in 2008. She and Crawford have known other since they were 8 years old.
May 25, 2013
The 2013 Va Most of DeKalb’s 5,177 seniors will receive their diplomas this weekend at graduation ceremonies in stadiums, arenas, the Georgia World Congress Center and the Georgia Dome. On the next four pages, we feature the top students of the 2013 class. They rose to the top of the class by earning the highest grade
Arabia Mountain (Resident)
Arabia Mountain (Magnet)
Ayomide Charles Akin-David
Academic success is in Yadeni Alemayehu’s blood. With an economist father and a mother who is a nurse, the Ethiopia native grew up learning the importance of education. “Since I was very little, my parents have always been very strict on grades,” Yadeni said. “They’ve always wanted their children to makes A’s in class and to be very engaged.” Yadeni, 18, topped her Arabia Mountain resident senior class with a 4.1 GPA. Yadeni will attend Oxford at Emory University as a pre-med major. She hopes to become a neuroscientist and be an example for her two younger brothers. “I want to show them that if they work hard, they can achieve anything,” she said. – Jessica Smith
On paper, Ayomide Charles Akin-David is the kid most high schoolers love to hate. The former varsity soccer player is athletic, popular and smart as a whip. But as soon as the Arabia Mountain High valedictorian opens his mouth, his humility and charming personality abound. The 18-year-old soccer player leads his magnet class with a 4.2 GPA. Charles, who goes by his middle name, said he has an active social life – nobody expects him to be as smart. “When people find out, they’re like, ‘Dang Charles! You’re smart?’” he said. “I work hard but I play hard.” He is headed to Stanford University to study computer science on Gates Millennium and Zell Miller scholarships. – Jessica Smith
Alexis Pointer was in the fifth grade when she set her sights on becoming valedictorian. “I just knew what I had to do to be No. 1,” said the 18-year-old, who led her class at Cedar Grove High with a 4.1 GPA. “It was a big moment for me,” she said. “I had to make a lot of sacrifices, but it was worth it.” She enrolled in six Advanced Placement courses at once. “There was a lot of staying up late to do work and not being able to have fun with my friends,” she said. Her straight A’s helped her land a $5,000 DeKalb County Education Scholarship and $1,000 Burger King and Comcast Leaders and Achievers scholarships. She will study computer engineering at Georgia Tech. – Jessica Smith
For Sarah Kuranga, the road to success is a multi-lane highway. The 17-year-old Columbia High magnet valedictorian splits her time among three passions – school, business and golf. “I’ve never made anything less than a B in high school, so I was kind of expecting it,” said Sarah, who has a perfect 4.0 GPA. She will major in political science at Columbia University on a four-year $292,000 golf scholarship. Sarah began golfing six years ago when a family member took her to Sugar Creek in East Atlanta. She plans to be either be a professional golfer or an entrepreneur. “Either way, I’m positive about the future,” she said. – Jessica Smith
Aleisha Williams logged countless hours in the library, and it paid off. Her 3.8 GPA earned her co-valedictorian of Columbia High’s resident program alongside classmate Shykeena Blanton. “When they called my name, I was shaking and crying,” she said. But Aleisha is no bookworm. She is an expert clarinetist who spent her time outside the classroom strutting down the football field. Aleisha’s big reason for working hard is her mother, Mary Ann Johnson, who is a surgical tech and inspired her to become a physician’s assistant. “She never got to go to college,” she said. “I wanted to make her proud.” Aleisha is headed to Georgia Southern University as a biology/pre-med major in the fall. – Jessica Smith
Shykeena Blanton is no dumb jock. Not only does the 18-year-old volleyball and soccer whiz score goals for the Columbia Eagles, she scores top marks in all of her classes. Her 3.8 GPA earned her co-valedictorian of her school’s resident program with classmate Aleisha Williams. This fall, she will go to the University of Georgia to major in biomedical engineering. She plans to go on to medical school to become an anesthesiologist. Shykeena, who is also a member of JROTC, Beta Club and National Honor Society, says her involvement in volleyball and soccer inspired her to pursue a career in science. “Athletes get a lot of injuries, and I want to be able to help prevent pain for patients.” – Jessica Smith
Coreyonna Welch receives a hug from DeKalb CE Chamber board Chairman Arnie Silverman (left)
Grad tops class de By Ken Watts firstname.lastname@example.org
During her senior year, when her classmates were busy with senior year stuff, Coreyonna Welch was battling ovarian cancer. After her diagnosis last November, she missed months of school through March 4 this year. “I went from being a regular 17-year-old that loved to hang out with my friends to a cancer patient that couldn’t enjoy her senior year because she had to do chemotherapy Monday to Friday,” she wrote in her application to the DeKalb County Scholarship Education Fund. “I lost a lot of friends. I don’t know if they were scared of the way I looked, or if they thought I was going to die, or simply thought cancer was contagious.” Coreyonna said there were times she wanted to give up and ask why her. “But then I remembered that God gives his hardest battles to his strongest soldiers,” she said. “And now I have a testimony.” DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis, who read this excerpt from her application at a reception honoring the fund’s scholars, choked back tears before he helped present a $5,000 scholarship to Coreyonna. A hush descended on the hall at the Fernbank Museum, then it erupted in cheers as Coreyonna walked to the podium to receive her check. Months after her treatment ended, Coreyonna said she was surprised to discover that she had made resident covaledictorian with a 3.92 GPA at Southwest DeKalb, which also houses a magnet school for high achievers. Fortunately for her, Coreyonna had completed all of the classes she needed to graduate by the end of the first semester of her senior year, except for economics.
May 25, 2013
aledictorians point averages. They will speak to their classmates, teachers, parents, relatives and friends during their graduation ceremonies. This fall, they will be headed to Ivy League schools, private universities and state colleges.
SW DeKalb (Resident)
Curtis Parker / CrossRoadsNews
EO Burrell Ellis at the May 7 DeKalb County Education Scholarship Fund awards reception. DeKalb and interim School Superintendent Michael Thurmond join in the applause.
espite battling cancer in senior year Coreyonna Welch, Southwest DeKalb High’s resident covaledictorian, will attend the University of West Georgia in the fall and major in nursing. She wants to become a nurse practitioner so she can help people who are sick.
Jennifer Ffrench Parker / CrossRoadsNews
“I was able to take that course online while I recovered,” she said. “My father kept up with my assignments and brought them to me.” Coreyonna’s cancer is now in remission and she is headed to the University of West Georgia in the fall to major in nursing. “I want to be a nurse practitioner,” she said, adding that she can help others in the situation she has been in. “Although I may not be able to cure their
disease, I can mentor them on how and why not to lose faith,” she said. Coreyonna also has a HOPE scholarship and a Pell Grant. At Southwest DeKalb, she was a member of the National Honor Society, the National French Honor Society, the Beta Club, the 4-H Club and Ladies of Distinction. She also played soccer in the 10th and 11th grades.
Tu Minh Khong
For Tu Minh Khong, the race to the top of Clarkston High’s 2013 senior class was a marathon, not a sprint. For the past year, the 18-year-old’s 4.1 GPA has been neck and neck with close friend and neighbor Hong-Ngoc Thi Nguyen. He ultimately edged Hong-Ngoc into second place and class salutatorian. Tu Minh said both have been pals since seventh grade and helped each other along the way. “When I found out, I ran into her classroom and gave her a big hug,” he said. “She was the first person I told.” For college, he is deciding between Georgia State University and Oglethorpe University. He plans to major in biology. – Jessica Smith
When he was 5 years old, Nathaniel Stowe asked his mother for a robot as a birthday gift. Thirteen years later, he is at the top of the DeKalb Early College Academy senior class and is headed to Southern Polytechnic University as a mechatronics engineering major. “As a child I remember watching television shows with robots and being fascinated by them,” said Nathaniel, who has a 3.95 GPA. At his May 17 graduation, he got an Associate of Science degree in engineering from Georgia Perimeter College. The aspiring NASA or military engineer said studying shouldn’t just be about numbers. “Instead of focusing on trying to do their best, they just strive to get this number on the paper,” he said – Jessica Smith
DeKalb School of the Arts
Richard Peay is the definition of wellrounded. The DeKalb School of the Arts valedictorian is an actor and musician. He plays the cello, ukulele and guitar – and still had time to study. “I kind of always liked having A’s on my report card,” said Richard, who is vice president of student government and in the National Honor Society. His 4.2 GPA landed him at the top of his class. “Education was always important at our house,” he said. “My parents always told me that a good education opens so many doors.” He will attend Princeton University this fall on a full academic scholarship. He plans to major in political science and join the school’s theater troupe. – Jessica Smith
Not only has Stephen Bines amassed a near-perfect academic record over the past four years, the Lithonia High senior has developed into a gifted musician. “I’m a music guy,” said Stephen, 18, who topped out his class with a 4.0 GPA. “It’s something I was born with. I just kind of developed playing drums and it went from there.” The percussionist for the Marching Bulldogs plans to become a college band director. This fall, he will be a member of the Marching Aristocrats at Tennessee State University, where he got more than $90,000 in band and academic scholarships. “My parents have always told me that with an education you can do anything,” he said. “So that just motivated me to work hard and achieve my goals.” – Jessica Smith
May 25, 2013
“Academics came first. But I was involved in a lot of other things that I loved, so I had to learn how to budget time wisely.”
Martin Luther King Jr.
Ronald McNair Sr.
Willie James Moody
Jalissa Yvette Shealy
Jonothan Smith set his sights on becoming valedictorian after attending his older sister Jourdan’s high school graduation in 2010. “When I saw the valedictorian at her graduation and he was a black male, it just made me want to be one of the few who set a goal, go for it and attain it,” he said. Three years later, the 17-year-old is at the top of his class at Martin Luther King Jr. High School in Lithonia with a 4.3 GPA. He is in the International Baccalaureate program, Beta Club, National Honor Society and was voted Mr. MLK this year. Jonothan is headed to the University of Georgia this fall to major in political science. “I just want to be successful and a good role model,” he said. – Jessica Smith
Throughout his school career, Willie James Moody was never one-dimensional. He was an active community servant organizing can drives, feeding the hungry, and tutoring schoolchildren. He was also senior class president, a member of Miller Grove’s Beaux Gentleman’s Club, and president of the National Honor Society. He topped his class with 4.1 GPA to become valedictorian. Willie’s strategy for academic success was simple: Study every available moment, weekdays and weekends. It didn’t hurt that he was also good at time management, which helped him also juggle his other passion, baseball. The star centerfielder played in this year’s all-star. He plans to major in mechanical engineering but hasn’t yet settled on a college. – Ken Watts
Jalissa Yvette Shealy thinks her approach to high school has prepared her well for college. “I took eight classes every year here,” she says. “And I studied every night with note cards. For me, it was more than something I had to do. Studying was a way of life.” It paid off. She topped her class with a 4.1 GPA and is headed to Southern University to major in psychology with a minor in biology. “I hope to channel that interest into a medical career specializing in psychiatry.” she said. Despite her rigorous academic schedule, Jalissa was active in National Honor Society and the Beta Club and numerous school and community groups. “I’m very excited to see my dream come true,” she said. – Ken Watts
Nina Wilks worked hard all four years at McNair and built her GPA to 3.9. Still she had no expectation of being named valedictorian. “I’m proud and honored by the recognition,” she said. “My parents are too. They always believed in me.” Nina is known around McNair for her involvement in a variety of extracurricular activities including the Beta Club, National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, the PTSA and Technology Students of America. Nina, who won a Congressional Art Scholarship in the 5th District, has her sights set on a career in animation, a field in which African-Americans are underrepresented. She’ll begin her studies at the Savannah College of Art and Design Atlanta campus in the fall. – Ken Watts
SW DeKalb (Magnet)
Brittany Williams Brittany Williams has received more than $500,000 in offers from universities across the country including Duke, Xavier and Syracuse. The Southwest DeKalb magnet valedictorian has a 4.19 GPA. She chose Duke University and will major in neuroscience as a pre-med student. “I want to be a pediatric surgeon,” she says. Earning valedictorian brought a lot of joy to her family. “My mom was crying tears of joy,” she said. “My dad doesn’t like to show his emotions, but he knew he wanted to cry too.” Brittany is a member of 14 school organizations, including president of SWD Student Government and captain of the girls lacrosse team. She credits prioritizing for her academic success. “I always did homework and projects for the most challenging AP subjects first,” she said.
Brittany Burnett Brittany Burnett’s journey to the top of her class taught her a lot of lessons but especially one – time management. “Academics came first,” she said. “But I was involved in a lot of other things that I loved, so I had to learn how to budget time wisely.” Brittany earned valedictorian at Stephenson High with a 4.14 GPA. She was active in the National Honor Society, Beta Club and Ladies of Distinction and an avid volleyball and tennis player, which made it a challenge to meet her own benchmark of five hours of study per day. “Most days I managed, except when team practice ran long,” she said. Brittany will attend Georgia Institute of Technology where she is planning to major in civil engineering. “I’m fascinated by the field because it incorporates math and science, which I love, but also allows you to be creative,” she said.
– Ken Watts
– Ken Watts
May 25, 2013
“I love helping people and I love science. So it’ll be great to use what I’ve learned that could help some crime victim get justice.”
Topping her class after a very difficult, lonely start at Stone Mountain High was sweet reward for Cyrianne Keutcha. She and her family moved to DeKalb from Cameroon in 2009, her freshman year. Cyrianne’s native language was French, and she spoke very little English when she arrived. “I was able to learn bits and pieces of the language from television and online,” she said. “Eventually, English started to make sense to me.” Cyrianne’s academic performance soared and she finished her senior year with a 3.9 GPA. In the fall, she will attend Georgia State University and major in biochemistry on a pre-med track. She plans to become a pulmonary specialist and return to Cameroon to help farmers dying from lung cancer caused by pesticides and dust. – Ken Watts
Valencia Johnson really wanted to be valedictorian and she worked for it. Her motivation began in middle school when she finished second in her class “I knew I could do better,” she said. She topped her senior class at Towers with a 4.0 GPA. “Words can’t describe how happy I was,” she said. Throughout high school, Valencia stayed on the Principal’s List and was a member of Health Occupation Students of America. This fall, she will attend the University of Georgia and major in biology. Valencia says she wants to be a criminalist, the highly skilled investigators who analyze evidence from crime scenes. “I love helping people and I love science. So it’ll be great to use what I’ve learned that could help some crime victim get justice,” she said. – Jessica Smith
Andrew Melissas can’t wait to get started on his career path. With his 4.4 GPA, he has been accepted at Georgia Tech where he will study aeronautical engineering. Andrew is the recipient of a Presidential Scholarship, a Coca-Cola scholarship and a grant from the Zell Miller Program. He gives his teachers at Tucker a lot of the credit for his academic success. “They were always willing to help me, even staying after school to go over material that I had questions about. That meant a lot. And our principal James Jackson inspired me as well.” Andrew says he was surprised when he was announced as valedictorian. “I knew my GPA was pretty high, but I never assumed anything,” he said. “I was happy and very thankful. So were my parents.” – Ken Watts
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May 25, 2013
Twenty-three of the 54 valedictorians and salutatorians also competed in a dozen different sports. Seven played more than one.
Students excelled in academics and athletics
Senior athletes who also excelled in the classroom include Kristen Peagler (left) and (from top) Xavier Howard, Asier Isayas and Tyrus Wheeler.
School Arabia Mountain Magnet Columbia Magnet Columbia Resident Cross Keys Druid Hills Lakeside Miller Grove SW DeKalb Magnet Stephenson Tucker
2013 Valedictorians Student Charles Akin-David Sarah Kuranga Shykeena Blanton Ranulfo Ramos-Santos Anna Dowling Stephanie Pham Willie James Moody Brittany Williams Brittany Burnett Andrew Melissas
Sport(s) Soccer Golf Volleyball Cross country/track Cross country/swimming/track Tennis Baseball Lacrosse/cheerleading Tennis/volleyball Cross country
School Arabia Mountain Magnet Cedar Grove Chamblee Resident Columbia Resident Druid Hills Lakeside Lithonia McNair SW DeKalb Magnet Stephenson Towers Tucker
2013 Salutatorians Student Asier Isayas Tyrus Wheeler Joshua Heard Kevin Reagan Xavier Howard Jason Terry Paul Choi Ashlee Gutheridge Terrence Dixon Kristen Peagler Maiya Smith Jasmine Carruth Aniya Hamilton
Sport(s) Soccer Tennis Football/golf Golf Football Cross country/soccer Tennis Tennis Baseball Soccer Cheerleading Swimming Volleyball/basketball
Scholar athletes winners in the classroom and on the field By Jessica Smith
members of the Class of 2013 who emerge with high marks both on the field and in the Between Advanced Placement classes and classroom. homework, balancing a sport can be tough, Twenty-three of the 54 valedictorians and but those challenges did not deter some salutatorians also competed in football, bas-
The Gallery at South DeKalb Congratulates the Following 2013 Graduates A TO Z KIDS Eureka White
GA Perimeter College, Decatur Campus
ANNA’S LINENS Sha’Kera Bell
Carver High School
ASHLEY STEWART Sharia Wilson
Clayton State University
BALBOA Jazmyn Walton
Southwest DeKalb High
CHAMPS Ariana Walters
Fort Valley State University
DTLR Niya Falls
Arabia Mountain High School
PICCADILLY Breeona Jackson Talladega College
UNICA Chloe Walker
Columbia High School
ketball, baseball, track, soccer, competitive cheerleading, cross country, golf, gymnastics, soccer, swimming or tennis, and many of them are headed to college this fall on both academic and sports scholarships. Scholar athletes account for 46 percent of this year’s top students. They competed in a dozen different sports, and seven played more than one sport during the 2012-2013 school year. From Arabia Mountain High’s magnet program, three athletes are top students – Rams soccer teammates Ayomide Charles Akin-David, a midfielder and forward, and midfielder Asier Isayas are valedictorian and salutatorian, and tennis player Tyrus Wheeler is co-salutatorian. Columbia’s magnet valedictorian Sarah Kuranga is a three-time DeKalb County girls golf champion. The straight-A student earned three trips to the state tournament during her high school career, including a top six finish in 2012. Shykeena Blanton, the school’s resident valedictorian, was a member of the Lady Eagles’ volleyball team. Resident salutatorian Xavier Howard was one of two DeKalb football players to earn top academic accolades. He was joined by Cedar Grove co-salutatorian Joshua Heard, who led the Saints as quarterback. At Miller Grove, valedictorian Willie James Moody played baseball for the Wolverines. This year, he tied for 12th-highest batting average for DeKalb County during the regular season, hitting at a .441 clip. Druid Hills, Lakeside, Stephenson and Tucker join Southwest DeKalb’s magnet program as the only five DeKalb schools with athletes as both valedictorians and salutatorians. Druid Hills valedictorian Anna Dowling competed in the Class AAAAAA Cross Country State Championships, the state sectionals in track, and was a member of the Red Devils swim team. Salutatorian Jason Terry did double duty on the cross country team and soccer team, which advanced to the Sweet 16 round of the Georgia High School Association state playoffs. At Lakeside, valedictorian Stephanie Pham and salutatorian Paul Choi led their senior class with near-perfect GPAs. The pair also helped lead their tennis team to state tournament appearances this spring. Brittany Williams, Southwest DeKalb
High’s magnet valedictorian, showcased her athletic abilities in cheerleading and lacrosse. Her teammate Kristen Peagler, who was the school’s magnet salutatorian, joined her in competing at the varsity lacrosse level for the first time this year. In its first season, the Panthers just missed reaching the state playoffs. Kristen is also a record-setting performer on the soccer field. She scored 55 goals during the 2012-2013 season – breaking her own record of 50 from last season – and setting an all-time county high. At Stephenson, valedictorian Brittany Burnett played tennis and volleyball, and salutatorian Maiya Smith was on the varsity cheerleading team. Another pair of athletes snagged the top two spots in Tucker High’s 2013 graduating class. Valedictorian Andrew Melissas was a cross country runner, and salutatorian Aniya Hamilton played basketball and volleyball for the Lady Tigers. Aniya helped lead the volleyball team to the Sweet 16 last fall with a 29-15 record. She was also the second leading rebounder for the 25-5 girls basketball team, who made it to the Elite Eight in the GHSA playoffs. The other scholar athletes include Chamblee resident salutatorian Kevin Reagan, Cross Keys valedictorian Ranulfo Ramos-Santos, Lithonia’s salutatorian Ashlee Gutheridge, McNair salutatorian Terrence Dixon, and Towers salutatorian Jasmine Carruth. Of the 23, three will be attending Ivy League schools. Sarah Kuranga, Columbia’s magnet valedictorian, will attend Columbia University on a full golf scholarship, valued at $292,000. Cedar Grove quarterback Joshua Heard is taking his athletic and academic skills to Yale University where he will play football for the Bulldogs on a full athletic scholarship. Stephenson valedictorian Brittany Burnett has a full academic scholarship to Cornell University. Southwest DeKalb’s magnet salutatorian Kristen Peagler has a full-ride athletic scholarship to Presbyterian College in Clinton, S.C., to play soccer for the Blue Hose. Two athletes – Arabia Mountain’s magnet valedictorian, Ayomide, and McNair salutatorian Terrence Dixon – got full-ride Gates Millennium Scholarships.
May 25, 2013
“It’s just such a relief to know that we have a way of paying for college. That removes a lot of pressure.”
Gates Scholars awarded full-ride scholarships to college By Ken Watts
A dozen DeKalb graduates are going to college this fall on full-ride 2013 Gates Millennium Scholarships. The seniors from nine high schools are among 87 metro Atlanta students named April 26 by the United Negro College Fund, which manages the Gates Millennium Scholars Program. Eight of the 12 students are from South DeKalb high schools. Arabia Mountain High has three recipients, the highest number of any DeKalb school. The group includes two valedictorians and two salutatorians. The South DeKalb scholars are Ayomide Charles Akin-David, Karri Thomas, and Morgan McCall from Arabia Mountain High; Lila Siwakoti, Clarkston High; Terrence Dixon, Ronald E. McNair High; Ashley Wrushen, Martin Luther King Jr. High; Kaven Bell, Miller Grove High; and Natasha Monroe, Redan High. Ayomide Akin-David is Arabia Mountain’s Ashley Wrushen valedictorian and his classmate Morgan McCall is one of the school’s three salutatorians. Jonothan Smith is the MLK Jr. High valedictorian, and Terrence Dixon is the salutatorian at McNair High School. Last year, 15 DeKalb students got Gates Scholarships. The Georgia scholars are among 1,000 named this year from 46 states, the District of Columbia, and five U.S. territories. This year, another DeKalb County student, DuMarkus Davis, who attends the online American High School based in Hollywood, Fla., also won a Gates Scholarship. Even though he lives in Decatur, he is counted among Florida’s award recipients. The good-through-graduation Gates Scholarships, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to each scholar, can be used to pursue degrees in any undergraduate major at the accredited college or university of the recipient’s choice. Michael L. Lomax, president and CEO of the UNCF, says the Gates Millennium Scholars Program is not only an investment in the futures of these students, but also in the country’s economic and social strength and competitiveness.
DeKalb’s 2013 Gates Scholars Twelve DeKalb students were awarded Gates Millennium Scholarships. They will attend colleges across the country on full scholarship. Student High School College Ayomide Charles Akin-David Arabia Mountain Stanford University Morgan McCall Arabia Mountain University of Virginia Karri Thomas Arabia Mountain Georgia Tech Amiri Banks Chamblee Charter Cornell University Arfan Siddique Chamblee Charter Princeton University Lila Siwakoti Clarkston Oglethorpe University Brenda Khor Cross Keys Wooster College Nahome Diribssa Druid Hills Sarah Lawrence College Ashley Wrushen Martin Luther King Jr. University of Miami Kaven Bell Miller Grove University of West Georgia Terrence Dixon McNair Howard University Natasha Monroe Redan Tuskegee University DuMarkus Davis* American High* Kennesaw State University DuMarkus Davis lives in Decatur but is graduating from an online high school based in Florida. He is counted among Florida’s Gates Scholarship recipients.
“Today more than ever it is important that our young people get the education they need, and that we need them to have in order to remain competitive in the 21st century,” he said. “For the 20,000 young men and women who will attend college as Gates Millennium Scholars, the financial support, leadership training, mentoring, and academic and social support they receive will enable them to become college graduates and our next generation of leaders.” Since its inception in 1999 with a $1.6 billion endowment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the scholarship program has funded 20,000 high-performing, lowincome students to attend 800 private and public schools – among them, Ivy League colleges and flagship state universities across the country. Arabia Mountain’s Morgan McCall, who will attend the University of Virginia and major in economics and sociology, Morgan McCall says she is aiming for a career in consulting for a financial institution, teaching at the university level, or in market analysis. “I’m still very excited and surprised,” said
Morgan, who is one of her school’s three 2013 salutatorians. “I’m especially thrilled for my mom who helped me through the very long, very complicated application process. I’m glad she gets to see all her love, guidance and support pay off.” Classmate Ayomide, who goes by his middle name, Charles, is headed to Stanford University to major in computer engineering. “I want to learn to use codes effectively and write my own software so that I can help bring electricity and other utilities to underserved areas here and in developing countries around the world,” he said.
Terrence Dixon of McNair High says he will double-major in political science and business at Howard University. “Without the Gates Scholarship, I would have had to stay in Georgia,” he said. Terrence Dixon Redan High’s Natasha Monroe said she had no particular expectations after going through the long, complex application process for the Millennium Scholarship so she was truly surprised when she got the award letter. “The wonderful reality sank in,” she said. “It was a stress reliever. The biggest thing about college is that a lot of people are going to come out in debt, but I won’t have that issue.” Natasha, who is a lifelong animal lover, says she will major in veterinary medicine at Tuskegee University. Seventeen-year-old DuMarkus, the online high school graduate, is an aspiring classical concert solo violinist. He attended Chamblee Charter High until the 10th grade and completed his 11th and 12th grades at the online American High School. He will attend Kennesaw State University’s School of Music in the fall. “It’s just such a relief to know that we have a way of paying for college,” he said. “That removes a lot of pressure.” Eighty-six percent of the students in the Gates Scholarship Program graduate, 38 percent higher than the national graduation rates for all students. The UNCF says this is comparable to the graduation rates for students from high-income families.
May 25, 2013
“There are so many things that make you elite in this world and give you the tools to make a difference.”
DECA’s graduates headed to college with credits, associate degrees Seniors take classes solely at GPC campus By Ken Watts
One of DeKalb’s smallest graduating classes is also among the most accomplished. On May 17, 36 seniors at the DeKalb Early College Academy proudly marched into the auditorium at the Administrative and Instructional Complex in Stone Mountain – the first graduation of DeKalb’s commencement season. All of the graduates have some college credit under their belts, but 15 have earned 60 hours of university credit and an Associate of Arts degree in addition to their high school diplomas. Because of the school’s unique partnership with Georgia Perimeter College, they will move on to higher education as juniors. Thirty of the graduates have been accepted to four-year universities. The commencement speaker, state Sen. Jason Carter (D-District 42), praised the 2013 class for its hard work and pointed to the special opportunity graduates have to make significant contributions to society. “The secret to wealth and power is recognizing that you already have it,” he said. “You’ve got plans and dreams and good folks who have supported you in your education and you live in this country. There are so many things that make you elite in this world and give you the tools to make a difference.” For ninth and 10th grades, DECA’s cur-
DeKalb Early College Academy graduates are headed to college this fall with college credits. Some graduated on May 17 with associate arts degrees along with their high school diplomas and will halve their time in college. DECA’s students are hand-picked for the unique program.
riculum is similar to other DeKalb high schools. But its 11th- and 12th-graders follow a rigorous college schedule, taking classes solely at the GPC campus. The school selects students from middle schools across the county based on the recommendation of teachers and counselors,
transcripts, and student/parent interviews. It looks for rising ninth-graders who are academically at risk and may be underserved in the traditional high school setting. “The student body is about 98 percent minority,” said Jason Butler, the social studies teacher. “A lot of them come from struggling
middle schools and the academic culture in this program is proving to be a good way to jump start their secondary and college education.” DECA started in 2006 with a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Woodruff Foundation.
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Chinedue Agbaere University of Georgia
Tiara Johnson Georgia State University
Congratulates Our 2013 High School Graduates
Presented on behalf of S. Truett Cathy, this scholarship goes to employees completing 1800 hours of work and exhibiting leadership qualities. Nikolas Swift Columbus State University
Stephenson High School University of West Georgia
Raven Hutchinson S.W. DeKalb High School Kennesaw State University
James Barnes Alcovy High School Kennesaw State University
Tiffanie Joseph Stephenson High School Louisiana State University
Brooke Daniel Conyers Apostolic Christian Gordon State College
Ayanna Kosoko Arabia Mountain High School Oxford College at Emory
Malik Gill Chamblee High School Georgia State University
Klarissa Leoń Conyers Apostolic Christian Brigham Young University
Tytiana Grier Arabia Mountain High School Georgia Perimeter College
Matthew Seals S.W. DeKalb High School Morehouse College
Nikolas Swift Heritage High School Columbus State University
Taylor Whittaker Tucker High School Shorter University
Stephen Zolnik Georgia Perimeter College
Created in 2005 by Tony Royal, this scholarship is presented to students of partner schools that serve others well by being kind, considerate and helpful.
Cindy Reyes Redan High School Georgia Gwinnett College
Kristen Wimberly Stephenson High School Clark Atlanta University
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Jesus Sanchez Shiloh High School United States Marine Corp
Tiffanie Joseph Louisiana State University
Shytara D. Fields Martin Luther King High School Columbus State University
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Published on May 23, 2013