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Class of 2014

Nisha Poruthoor – Alpharetta High School

Nisha Poruthoor has always been thirsty for knowledge.

"From a very young age, I wanted to learn. Of course, from the moment any baby is born they are constantly learning, but I constantly thirsted for knowledge, a thirst that is never quite quenched," she said. "Year after year throughout my grade school education, I set off on a quest for knowledge. This quest was strongly supported and nourished by my parents and all of the teachers that took me under their wing, a group of people that would continuously introduce me to new topics and concepts as I stumbled through developing my own view and understanding of the world that surrounded me."

As the school's valedictorian, Nisha has remained a top scholar as well as a busy, well-rounded student. She's been a member of the school's Key Club, Math Team, Multicultural Club, Recycling Club and People Against Trafficking Humans organization, as well as the Chinese, Spanish, Science, and Math National Honor Societies.

With such a diversity of academic and social interests, Nisha says it's been hard to decide what to study when she goes to Yale University next year. "I was advised by several teachers to continue to explore," she said. " 'Keep your eyes open or you might miss something amazing. You never know when you'll find your true passion,' one teacher advised me."

"So I plan on doing just that – keeping an open mind going into college and continuing on my quest for knowledge. Somewhere along that path, I know that I'll be able to identify that one subject, that one problem, that starts a fire within me and keeps on burning for the rest of my life.

Scott Mayott – Banneker High School

Scott Mayott embodies the example of a student who is both college and career ready.  During his senior year Scott enrolled at Georgia State University and will graduate from high school with college credit. His decision to enroll in college early was driven by his desire to "go above and beyond what is expected."
Scott's success as a dual enrollment student has led to the formation of the iAccelerate program, which will allow students in their junior and senior year to begin dual enrollment programs at either Georgia State or Clark Atlanta University.  He is humbled that his legacy as a leader and model student has led to the creation of this program for Banneker students.

After graduation Scott plans to continue school at Georgia State University and major in political science with a minor in psychology.  His involvement in JROTC has helped shape his career pathway and he intends to enlist into the U.S. Army after college.  It is through this program that he has learned to develop as a leader and determine his ultimate career path dedicated to serving his country.

Scott's inspiration is "to make sure that he succeeds for others in his life."  He only wants the best for himself and to leave a lasting legacy with all those who he touches.

Leland Dunwoodie – Cambridge High School

Leland Dunwoodie will be graduating from Cambridge High School ranked #1 in his class. But unlike most graduates with the highest ranking in their senior class, Leland will not be delivering a speech at the graduation ceremony.  For new schools in their second year of operation, like Cambridge High School, valedictorians must be enrolled for the entire previous three semesters. 

Leland's family relocated to the Milton area from Stevensville, Mich., in August 2013 due to his father's new job.  Although Leland's parents gave him the choice to remain in Michigan for his senior year, where he would have likely been named valedictorian, Leland decided it was more important to remain with his three siblings and parents and move to Georgia.

Leland quickly made his mark on Cambridge High School's campus by challenging himself with four Advanced Placement courses, contributing to the varsity basketball and varsity golf teams, and providing tutoring services to several students in need of academic support.  According to his basketball coach, Chip Flemmer, "Leland is one of the best all-around young men I have ever coached. His intelligence and work ethic will take him wherever he wants in life." 

Leland has been accepted to the University of Georgia, Clemson University, University of South Carolina, Michigan State University, Indiana University and Hillsdale College, and is still waiting to hear from a few others.

Ahmani Dawson – Centennial High School

At Centennial High School, Ahmani Dawson is known as the person to go to if you want to get things done. 

"Ahmani is a fantastic student who is full of personality and has done some amazing work her in her role as a peer facilitator with our CBI [Community-Based Instruction] students," says counselor Shellie Caplinger.

During her four years at Centennial, Dawson has built an impressive resume of involvement and achievements; however, she'll probably best be remembered as a result of her heart for community service. 

A cheerleader, Ahmani was wearing her uniform one day when a CBI student asked her why she was wearing it. That simple question led to Ahmani creating and leading a cheerleading squad specifically for special needs students.  

"She told me that she wanted to be a cheerleader, so I told her to pursue it but she told me that there wasn't a place for her to cheer," Ahmani says. "That didn't' seem right to me, so I did some investigating and decided to put together a cheerleading team specifically for CBI students."

Others might view it as more work or a burden, but for Ahmani it was simply the right thing to do. "If someone has a dream and it's within my power to make that dream come true, why wouldn't I?" she asks. 

As a result of this experience and her work coordinating the community service efforts of her church, Ahmani knows that community service will have a place in her future. She plans to attend the University of Georgia in the fall.

"I had a dream the other day where I opened a school for students with special needs so that they would have a place to reach all of their dreams," she says.  "I originally wanted to pursue a career in business and/or political science, but now I'm rethinking that."

Kevin, Mick and Jay Litherland – Chattahoochee High School

When Kevin, Mick and Jay Litherland begin college life at the University of Georgia next fall, there's no doubt that they will turn heads.  After all, how often do you get the chance to meet identical triplets?

Being a trio isn't their only claim to fame, however – they are also the only triplets to ever sign an athletic scholarship in swimming to the University of Georgia. 

Kevin, Mick and Jay have been swimming since they were young boys, so it's easy for them to sum up what their lives are like.

"It's all about swimming," they say. "We practice each day, study and spend time with our family and friends."

They're not only known among their peers for their atfhletic prowess, but also for how they carry themselves. 

"Everyone respects Kevin, Mick and Jay because of what they can do in the pool," says a Chattahoochee student. "But we also respect them for another reason – even though they're great swimmers, they're also really humble and just good guys."

The boys are dedicated to their sport and hope to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics. With a mother from Japan and a father from New Zealand, each one could potentially end up swimming for a different country.

Dionne Stroud Black – Creekside High School

Dionne Stroud Black, Creekside High School's valedictorian, has had a busy senior year. She's a member of the National Honor Society, BETA Club, National Spanish Honor Society, Black Student Alliance, STEM Club, and a Wren's Nest student editor. 

As shown by her full schedule, Dionne believes in honoring commitments and is active outside of school as well as within.  She has served as a Grady Memorial Hospital Teen Volunteer, a program that allows students to work within the hospital during the summer performing tasks such as greeting visitors, answering telephones, providing directions, and assisting with patient discharges. 

Dionne also has volunteered at the Children's Museum of Atlanta, an opportunity that allowed her to increase her customer service skills, learn more about the museum, and participate in museum activities. 

She will attend Vanderbilt University in the fall.

Tyra Locke – Independence High School

Tyra Locke and her mother experienced some financial hardships to the point of being temporarily homeless. This impacted her ability to go to school and led to a loss of self-confidence; so much so that Tyra dropped out of school for an entire semester. 

When she first enrolled at Independence High School, Tyra felt that college was not attainable and that her graduation dreams were significantly delayed or forever lost.  But, with determination and a lot of positivity, she worked hard and continued to push forward. She works 36 hours a week at Dunkin Donuts and has managed to maintain a "B" average.

Once Tyra realized that she could still graduate on time, she began to apply to colleges.  To date she has been accepted to Wesleyan College, Loyola University, Agnes Scott College, and Georgia State University – just to name a few.  

Seeing her hard work pay off, Tyra's confidence is now through the moon. She plans to commit to Agnes Scott College, which has offered her a scholarship.

Kylesh Sharma – Johns Creek High School

What started as an eighth-grade English assignment has ended in a world of possibilities for Johns Creek High School graduating senior Kylesh Sharma. 

Kylesh researched the country of Nepal and was shocked to learn what life was like for children there, specifically for young girls. In a country ravaged by a civil war, citizens of Nepal live on less than a dollar a day and educational opportunities for females are few and far between.

"I just knew that I had to do something," he recalls. "I have sisters, and I can't imagine what life would be like for them without an education."

Kylesh decided to start a non-profit, specifically a U.S. chapter of Nepal House which is a school for girls that focuses on therapy, life skills and education. But first he had to get his parents on board. 

"I asked them to allow me to homeschool for my freshman year of high school so that I would have more time to focus on getting the Nepal House off the ground," Kylesh says. "They agreed but said I only had that year to make it happen."

And he did make it happen. Three years later, the Nepal House has 25 girls in three grades. A new group begins each year in prekindergarten and then moves up as a new class begins. Kylesh says his goal is to have a PreK through fifth-grade school model in place.

But that takes funding – approximately $15,000 to $20,000 per year to keep the school operating.  That's why every month Kylesh holds fundraisers to keep these girls in school and give them the quality of support they need to succeed. 

As a student at Johns Creek, he has been involved in FBLA as the president, the Japanese Club as co-president, the Investment Club and the Indian Cultural Exchange Club. Kylesh will attend Stanford University in the fall and is interested in several fields – medicine, business administration and bio fabrication. 

LaShawn Simmons – Langston Hughes High School

During a visit to Washington, D.C., LaShawn Simmons met Congressman John Lewis.  In his office, he had a jar of jelly beans representing a voting test from years past which required African-Americans to estimate the number of beans in the jar before being allowed to vote.  LaShawn now has her own jar of jelly beans to remind her that she can succeed and achieve while remembering from whence she has come.
LaShawn, with a grade point average of 4.0, is valedictorian of Langston Hughes High School's 2014 graduating class.  She has served as secretary of her class, as stage manager for school theatre productions, as a peer facilitator, and as an actress in school productions.  Additionally, LaShawn is an active member of the International Thespian Society, the Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation, and a scholar of the Posse Foundation.

As a strong advocate for community service, LaShawn founded a non-profit organization, "Uplifting Youth through Empowerment," which helps to reinforce confidence of youth through mentoring, positive reinforcement, character education, and positive role modeling.  By volunteering and supporting younger students, LaShawn is able to help those on the path to student success and achievement, including her younger siblings whom she is quick to encourage. 

"My ultimate goal is to make my parents proud," LaShawn says. "They were both faced with adversity throughout their youth but their ability to overcome has inspired me to continue to achieve my absolute best."  She plans to attend Brandeis University as a Posse Scholar.


DeMarcus Colbert – McClarin High School

In McClarin High School, DeMarcus Colbert found the home he was searching for. Homeless since he was 11 years old, DeMarcus and his family moved from place to place in Atlanta, and sometimes, to different schools. A few months ago, the shelter they were living in transitioned to an all-female residence, and DeMarcus had a choice to make. Should he give up his goal to graduate or should he consider different housing and attend a new school?

DeMarcus decided to move in with a relative in the Tri-Cities High School attendance zone, even though it meant leaving his mother and sisters behind. Tri-Cities would have been a welcoming place for him, but he learned that he had fallen too far behind to graduate with his original class – the Class of 2014. Tri-Cities counselors then suggested another option: McClarin High School, recently dubbed the "Frank McClarin Success Academy," a nearby non-traditional school that offers flexibility in scheduling. 

The McClarin model allowed DeMarcus to accelerate his classes and earn the credits that would have kept him from graduating. Now, he's set to don a cap and gown at the school's graduation on May 22 and has plans to attend Miles College, just outside of Birmingham, Ala. Engineering is his intended major, and his mother couldn't be more proud of what he's accomplished. She has been so moved by his supportive experience at McClarin that she wants to find ways to give back and volunteer.
His counselor, Nikki Hunter, also shares that pride. "All DeMarcus wanted was to be given a chance. He's worked hard to make this graduation goal a reality."

Caroline Filan – Milton High School

A champion in the swimming pool as well as in the classroom, Caroline Filan is one of Milton High School's most outstanding students.

An active member of the school's swim team, Caroline qualified for the state finals during her 10th and 11th grade years, even helping to set a school record, and also was a part of the National Team at Swim Atlanta.  In addition to a long list of accomplishments with the swim team, Caroline also has a stellar list of academic and community accomplishments.

On the academic side, Caroline took nine honors classes, 13 Advanced Placement classes, and her lowest class average was a 96. Her current GPA is a 100.3. While balancing these intense courses at Milton, she also participated in many extra-curricular activities, including being president of the Spanish National Honor Society and treasurer of the National English Honor Society.  She also was an active part of Student Council, Habitat for Humanity, Beta Club, and Mu Alpha Theta.  "Her dedication did not stop there," said her counselor.  "She also tutored ESOL students."

Caroline volunteered for Make a Difference Day Book Drive and Books on Bases Smiles on Faces. She was part of National Honor Society at Milton which is comprised of the most gifted students.  Her role continues with her time with Model Atlanta Regional Commission, Women in Technology.  She was a Marshall at Milton's graduation and is graduating as an AP Scholar with Distinction and as an National Society of High School Scholars. She also was awarded as a Teen Jeopardy Finalist. 

Caroline is attending Dartmouth College in the fall where she will swim and hopes to major in biomedical engineering with a minor in Spanish.  Afterwards she would like to go to medical school and become a surgeon.

Caroline's values are set around making her family proud and she is committed to maintaining her family's legacy of working as hard and giving as much as you possible can at all times. "You must find the perfect balance and enjoy what you do," she says. "It's not just giving back to others, but helping others give back as well." 

Alexandra Mannings – North Springs Charter High School

Alexandra Mannings – called Alex by her friends – is a contradiction of sorts. Most people identify themselves as either right-brained or left-brained, but Alex is comfortable with both sides as demonstrated by her extensive dancing background as well as her passion for math and science.

North Springs Charter High School was the perfect place for her since the school uniquely offers both a Visual & Performing Arts magnet program and a Math & Science magnet program. While either track would be challenging on its own, Alex pursued both so she could follow her love of dance and choreography while also studying advanced math and physics.

And she is equally successful in both areas. Alex is a recipient of the prestigious 2014 National Achievement honor for her academics and last year was a Governor's Honors Program participant in dance. In addition to taking four Advanced Placement classes this year, she is a mentor for the school's Dance Department as both a dancer and choreographer and is doing a self-directed study in astrophysics.

Alex also interns with the Atlanta Ballet and has accepted a scholarship to the University of Alabama, where she plans to major in – what else – dance and physics. Upon college graduation, she hopes to dance professionally and later possibly pursue post-graduate studies in physics. 

Seong Su Kim – Northview High School

Seong Su Kim is on a mission this summer – to "bulk up" before heading off to the United States Military Academy at West Point in the fall.  Kim's appointment to West Point marks the fifth in a row for his school, Northview High School.

According to Seong Su, approximately 1,200 candidates are identified for admission into West Point each year, but only 10% make it through the rigorous selection process.

"I'm really excited because I know how prestigious this appointment is," Seong Su says. "Your tuition is paid for in exchange for your commitment to spend time in the military [five years in active duty and three years in the reserves], which will be an honor and a privilege to do."

Seong Su says he aspires to be an officer in the Army and is interested in military intelligence. During his four-year tenure at Northview, Seong Su has distinguished himself as a leader. He is student council president and a co-captain for the varsity basketball team.  Although he doesn't own a television and says he doesn't miss it, he keeps himself busy in other ways – working out and hanging out with friends.

One of his former Advanced Placement teachers, Lonna Upton, says she has no doubt that Seong Su is marching toward a bright future. 

"He's one of the finest young men I've ever taught, that I've ever known," she says. "I could not be more proud to have a student who represents our country so well."

Kimia Shahrokhi – Riverwood International Charter School

Kimia Shahrokhi, a soon-to-be graduate of Riverwood International Charter School, moved with her family to the United States from Iran four years ago. Knowing only her native language Farsi, Kimia then began a journey not only to adapt to American culture but also to its educational system.  With her determination and commitment to academics, she quickly learned English and has helped her non-English speaking parents navigate the social and business worlds.

One of the major differences she noticed between American and Iranian schools was the co-ed environments and the cultural diversity. In Iran, schools are single-gender and most students are Muslim. She's also enjoyed the opportunity to express herself – especially in art, where she was selected last year as a Governor's Honors Program participant.

Even though she has pushed herself academically with Advanced Placement and honors classes, Kimia also finds ways to be challenged outside of the classroom. She loves Crossfit and credits the training program with helping her develop inner and physical strength and to stretch past her limits.

Kimia's teachers appreciate that quest for excellence and praise her "thirst for knowledge, intellectual curiosity and work ethic." She has been accepted to Georgia State University and although she's not yet selected a major, she plans to study math and science.

Emory, Theodore and Samuel Moeller – Roswell High School

Born in Roswell, the Moeller triplets – Emory, Theodore and Samuel – have bled green and black their entire lives and even before they were born. Both of their parents have dedicated many years of service as educators at Roswell High School, and when they were still "hornets in the nest," the school threw their parents a baby shower and collected baby food.

With this legacy, it's natural that the babies grew up to become Roswell High School students. In fact, Emory, Theodore and Samuel are so ingrained in the community that their school lives have paralleled their principal's. 

"Their academic careers have come full circle," says Jerome Huff, who was their principal and assistant principal at Roswell North Elementary School and is now their principal at Roswell High School. All three boys are very high achievers, taking many Advanced Placement classes throughout high school, and maintaining 'A' averages and ranking in the top 20% of their class.

Next fall, the Roswell triplets will trade their "green and black" status for "red and black" as they plan to attend the University of Georgia. As active members of the Roswell High School marching band, they also will audition for the Redcoat Marching Band and begin a new legacy as UGA students.

Jahleel Smith – Tri-Cities High School

Not only has Jahleel Smith excelled in his academics as one of the top 10 graduates of Tri-Cities High School's Class of 2014, but he also is off the charts as a gifted musician. The bass trombonist has earned full scholarships to some of the nation's most prestigious music institutions, such as The Julliard School, the New England Conservatory of Music, and the Curtis Institute of Music. 

Each of these institutions takes only 1-2 new students each year, and in some cases, Jahleel beat out master's and doctoral level students for the spots, eventually deciding on the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia for his studies. Even at his young age, he is being considered for a bass trombone position with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.

Like many students, Jahleel's first experience playing an instrument began with a plastic recorder in third grade. When he enrolled in elementary school band, his music teacher noticed that he kept breaking the wooden reeds on the clarinet, so the teacher suggested he consider a brass instrument. It was music to the ears as Jahleel connected with the trombone.

As a student in Tri-Cities High School's Visual and Performing Arts magnet program, Jahleel gets to hone his skills in music while also taking advanced classes in math and science. Principal Dan Sims is proud of the way Jahleel has worked toward his goals.  "Jahleel has this amazing drive toward exactly what he wants to do," Sims says.  "He wants to be one of the greatest musicians there is and he's prepared himself for that path. It's because of that drive."

Maya Lennon –  Westlake High School

Vice president of Westlake High School's Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), president of Women of Westlake, National Honor Society member, and recent college traveler all describe Maya Lennon, a 2014 graduating Westlake High School senior. 

The school's valedictorian, Maya has been inspired throughout her school days by her parents who have always told her to "keep dreaming" and "keep pushing to achieve your dreams."  She also has been inspired by her teachers who have provided great feedback, such as Chantrise Sims Holliman and Gramisha Hernandez who challenged Maya to exceed in reading and writing, Toneikia Phairr who "made history interesting," and Kimberly Johny who invited innovation in science.

Maya, who dreams of becoming a doctor, has enjoyed participating in HOSA where there is an interesting speaker at each meeting.  Speakers share information about career choices and explain the requirements of the jobs they hold.  HOSA students also participate in local and state leadership conferences where they collaborate with others on special projects. Recently, the Westlake HOSA students earned third place for their public service announcement about child hunger.

Maya has been accepted to Brown, Dartmouth, and Cornell colleges, and recently visited all three campuses in order to make her final decision. Each has its merits – Brown has a free curriculum with no letter grades assigned, Dartmouth, though isolated, feels "homey," and Cornell has a good English program.  She's excited about learning new things and traveling, but a little apprehensive about Northern weather.

For fun, Maya is the planner for her group of friends.  She works hard to find fun activities that are low-cost or no-cost, such as matinee movies or the recent Dogwood Festival.  She also likes to read, watch television, and use the computer in her down time.

To those who are still in school on their way to graduation, Maya has simple but important advice.

"Develop good study habits. Have a goal. Be focused and self-motivated. Have a good support system and good friends," she says. "Most of all, be organized and be sure to take advantage of helpful methods – like a school agenda."  Her favorite quote is "Today you are you, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you" by Dr. Seuss.