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Class of 2022 Star Seniors
Continuing our tradition of recognizing graduating seniors, Fulton County Schools proudly launches its “Star Seniors: Class of 2022” web and video series. These 16 outstanding seniors – one from each high school – embody the spirit and fortitude of the Class of 2022. We are profiling high academic achievers, all-star athletes and award-winners, students with unusual or unique stories to share, and those who have beaten the odds to graduate.
The unforeseen arrival of COVID-19 in 2020 has presented many challenges thoughout the high school experience for this year's Star Seniors. These students and their peers deserve to be recognized for overcoming obstacles and moving steadfast toward graduation. Star Seniors and the Class of 2022, we salute you for your grit and can-do attitude. We wish you the best in all your future endevours.
Videos and bios will be released weekly in May. Please check back often!
Ammy Ahuatzin Ramirez is Riverwood High’s Star Senior. She came to the United States alone two years ago from Mexico, not speaking any English. “It was a big change from Mexico to the United States,” Ammy said. “My family – that’s the first thing I always think about when I wake up because I haven't been with them for two years. It’s hard for me, but at the same time I'm happy that they can be proud of me. I'm so happy and I'm proud of myself because of all that I have come through,” she said.
While a full-time student, Ammy also works two part-time jobs and serves as a teacher’s assistant (TA) in Riverwood’s counseling office. Melissa Forester, a Riverwood counselor, works with Ammy. “On top of being an A-student, she has two full-time jobs that she manages, and she also takes care of her family,” said Forester. “She's also our TA for the counseling suite and she really goes out of her way to help those students as well. She really has persevered and overcome a lot of obstacles that other students haven't had to go through.”
English as a Second Language (ESL) Instructor Mary Schmidt, agrees. “She really has a gentle soul; but, within that soul she really has a will, a really strong will of determination, resilience, thoughtfulness, and kindness,” she said. “I was just so overwhelmed about how she was taking this situation of dealing with being away from her parents at age 14 and saying, ‘okay this is a life I want; this is a life that my parents are giving me, and I'm going to make something of it.’”
Five years from now, Ammy sees herself graduating from college, working as a kindergarten teacher, and helping other students like her learn English and acclimate to the United States’ education system through the (ESL) program. “I just remember when I was a kid, I used to see my teachers and I liked how they can be with kids,” Ammy said. “I came here to Riverwood High School to help the students with the ESL classes. I'm still learning how to speak English and it is difficult for me, but I really want to come to this school and another school and help Hispanic students [in the future].”
Ms. Schmidt believes that in five years she will be working for Ammy. “When I say I'm going to work for her, I really think that she'll probably open a pre-kindergarten or kindergarten and help the ones that cannot afford to pay, or to support the ones that have to work to go to school, and take care of them, and teach them,” she said.
Ammy’s advice to future non-English speaking Hispanic freshman includes taking extra classes and obtaining extra work from teachers. She also encourages all students in general to simply “study and do the work.”
Released Thursday, May 26, 2022
Kevin Anderson is Tri-Cities High’s Star Senior. In the three years he has been a student at the school, he has endured much. “This summer Kevin accompanied me and several Tri-Cities students to a workshop in Maine,” said Jade Lambert-Smith, Tri-Cities theatre director. “Right before the workshop he experienced a family tragedy. When school started this year, he experienced more hurdles. The tenacity that Kevin exhibited in the midst of everything he has gone through is unparalleled in anything I’ve seen in my teaching career.”
With perseverance, Anderson has faced his challenges. “I am in this school as an unaccompanied minor,” he said. “It means I have no parental guardians helping me or guiding me. I have financial issues because essentially, I’m providing for myself. The biggest thing is feeling like I’m on my own.”
Lambert-Smith and Abigail Winkles, school social worker, have helped Anderson not to feel alone. “Ms. Winkles has pulled resources to make things easier for me,” Anderson said. “Ms. Jade coaches me. They both have given me so many resources and I’m so thankful. It’s overwhelming sometimes to see how much they care for and love their students.”
Though theater is his love, his favorite academic subject is Human Anatomy, taught by Arnold Best. “I like science more than any other academic subject,” Anderson said. “My favorite teachers are Ms. Jade, Mr. Best and Ms. Winkle, because they are very supportive.”
Ms. Winkle says Kevin’s ability to persevere is indicative of Tri-Cities Bulldog Pride. “Our Bulldog Pride has a couple of key elements,” Winkle said. “First is purpose. Kevin shows focus and determination in everything he wants to do. Second is resilience. He keeps bouncing back.”
Tri-Cities Principal Dr. Ethel Lett agrees: “Kevin has shown real tenacity in attacking his work, as well as defying the odds in his personal life. He makes sure he comes to school every day. He’s prepared and he’s focused.”
As one of the lead dancers, Anderson recently participated in the award-winning Tri-Cities production of “Fela.” “He’s awesome,” said Lambert-Smith. “He’s been a part of all our musicals since he came to Tri-Cities. He’s an all-around excellent performer.”
Performer, artist and singer Billie Elish inspires Anderson. “In the song ‘My Future’ she talks about her past, how she was very sad and depressed, and how she didn’t believe in herself, “Anderson said. “But she grows up and comes into herself and is happy to see where her future is going to take her. Billie Eilish is authentically herself, even when people are watching.”
As he looks forward to graduation and college, Anderson has one motivator that keeps him going through all the obstacles he faces. “I think about acting,” Anderson said. “Acting is everything to me. Just the ability to tell a story or teach a lesson through writers; to adapt, to live under those imaginary circumstances is a feeling I can never get enough of.”
Released Wednesday, May 25, 2022
Jamaiya Minor is North Springs High’s Star Senior. She is the first of her grandparent’s grandchildren to graduate from high school and pursue college. As a pioneer in her family, she has exhibited resilience as a student.
“Jamaiya was chosen as North Springs Star Senior because of her tremendous perseverance last semester when she was in a personal battle,” said Sangana William, Interrelated Resource (IRR) teacher. “She did not give up. She moved on. She stayed focused, and she passed all her classes with flying colors.”
Ms. Juretha Lawson, IRR teacher said: “She just has that special charm. She has eagerness, she is so diligent, and she is so hard working. She never gives up. She is just a star student – period. She just happens to be a senior.”
Five years from now Minor sees herself starting her own business and possibly going into real estate. “I want to see what it's like behind the scenes as a real estate developer or investing in real estate,” she said.
Minor also plans to attend college and major in business administration or business management after graduating in the spring. She was accepted to Georgia State University. “Growing up, my elementary school principal told me I was too bossy and always told people what to do,” Minor said. She will use this feedback as encouragement to pursue a career in management and business.
Ms. William sees Jamaiya as an entrepreneur running her own business in five years. She says, “I may be her customer for the business she's going to run in the future.”
Ms. Lawson is certain Minor will win in life. “My advice to Jamaiya is stay on the track that you're on right now because you have all the right attributes. You're driven, you're charming, you're caring, and you never give up-- and those are winning traits,” Lawson said.
Released Tuesday, May 24, 2022
Paul Philip is Northview High’s Star Senior. A humble and outgoing student, Philip was previously selected to participate in the Governor’s Honors program. Philip said, “It's an incredible blessing to be thought of by my teachers and by administrators for this award.”
He attributes his success in high school to the relationships he was fortunate enough to build. “Going into high school I know my sister had such great relationships with her teachers and administrators,” he said. “I thought how incredible it would be to meet all these people and then build long lasting relationships with them.”
Philip lives by the saying, “In this life we are only entitled to our labor; we're not entitled to the fruits of our labor,” excerpts from a Hindu scripture. “Although I'm not Hindu, I’m Catholic, it was something that resonated with me,” he said. “What it means to me is just about the process. Whether you are working hard at a sport or whether you're being kind, you do those things not because you expect something out of it but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Northview Assistant Principal Takisha Benning says that Philip is a leader who embodies humility and humanity. “Here at Northview, we have four pillars: compassion, personal responsibility, integrity, and positive attitude,” she said. “Paul embodies all four of those. He’s amazing.”
Northview Counselor Erica Thomas agrees. “He's a leader in every aspect,” Thomas said. “He's someone that connects easily with others. He is involved in a lot of different facets of the fabric of Northview, and he's someone that when you meet him is a breath of fresh air. Throughout the COVID pandemic he was integral in providing support to students all across Atlanta.”
Elizabeth Lake, Northview English teacher, speaks highly of Philip’s character and relatable personality. “He's driven academically, “Lake said. “He's driven in his extracurriculars. His resume is obviously unmatched. But he is also such a kind and friendly person to everyone he meets and can bring a smile to the face of other students, to his teachers, and to administrators.”
After graduation, Phillip plans to attend college and major in business or computer science. He said, “I’m also interested in humanities and literature so hopefully no matter what I'm doing I'll always be able to pursue those other interests as well.”
Five years from now Phillip sees himself possibly living in California and running his own business. “It would be great to work on a startup or something like that,” he said. “I hope whatever I'm doing I’ll love going to work every day and love the people I'm around.”
Released Monday, May 23, 2022
Westlake HS 2022 Star Senior - Reagan Lloyd
Reagan Lloyd is Westlake High’s Star Senior. An outstanding student, Lloyd has maintained straight A’s throughout high school. “I maintained a 4.0 GPA all my high school years,” Lloyd said. “Once I started in the 9th grade, I couldn’t stop.”
Westlake Principal Jarvis Adams noted that her domination as a student is defined in her name. “Reagan means ‘little ruler,’” Adams said. “And that’s just what she is. She dominates whatever she does as a student, as a person.”
English Language Arts (ELA) is Lloyd’s favorite subject. “I’m always correcting someone on their grammar,” Lloyd said. “It comes naturally to me.” She has taken this love to her studies at the Fulton Schools College and Career Academy (FSCCA). Recently, she signed a letter of intent to pursue teaching as a career. “I’m enrolled in the Teaching as a Profession Pathway at FSCCA,” Lloyd said. “After graduation I plan to enroll in college and major in Early Childhood Education. My ultimate career goal is to own my own pre-school.”
In addition to pursuing her love of grammar and teaching, Lloyd volunteers in the Westlake counseling office and in the community. “She makes sure parents are treated with customer service, and that teachers and students are greeted properly,” said Principal Adams. “She volunteers at her church and is even working with me on planning the awards ceremony for our students.”
Kimberly Alston, Lloyd’s favorite teacher, sees her as a phenomenal young woman. “She’s bright, intelligent, sweet and respectful,” Alston said. When Alston met Lloyd as a student during the COVID-19 pandemic, she noticed that she was different. “I ended up meeting and teaching Reagan during virtual learning when I had nothing but a bubble on a screen,” Alston said. “Reagan would come off camera. She was always engaged in the lesson and always on time and prepared. I had her in physics, and she was the top student in all my classes the whole year.”
Five years from now, Lloyd plans to have graduated from Clemson, Xavier or Louisiana State University. “If I’m not already working, I plan to pursue a master’s degree in Business Administration or Education Leadership, “she said.
She urges incoming Westlake ninth graders to “start strong, so you can finish strong. Ninth grade is the most important year of high school,” Lloyd said. “You’ll deal with negativity, but let it help you succeed. Let your haters be your motivators.”
In her four years of academic achievement and community service, she has held fast to this quote by J. Lynn, “Sometimes when it seems like things are falling apart, they may actually be falling into place.”
Released Thursday, May 19, 2022
Milton HS 2022 Star Senior - Pablo Alvarez
Pablo Alvarez is Milton High School’s Star Senior. Alvarez has many great qualities. He is described as intellectual, compassionate, empathic, self-aware, and insightful by his teachers. But he has also had challenges.
Alvarez faced his challenges head on, like moving to Milton High from Costa Rica during high school, and learning four languages. While a student in Costa Rica, he achieved the accomplishment of which he is the proudest, being selected as one of the representatives for Costa Rica in the International Junior Science Olympiad in 2019.
“I think that was one of the greatest honors I’ve ever received in my country,” he said. “An international level competition is something that not a lot of people attempt. That was a monumental achievement for me.”
Said Milton High School English teacher Lauren Pain: “He has an ability to persevere that is not common. The fact that he chose to relocate during his teenage years, move to another country, challenge himself at a time when a lot of teenagers would shy away from such a challenge is commendable and makes him very worthy of this honor.”
According to Amy Barr, Milton High School support staff, Alvarez’s work ethic is one of his best qualities.
“He does not shy away from the harder AP courses, college courses,” she said. “His personality has always been his greatest asset.”
After graduation, Alvarez will attend Georgia Tech, but he will take his first semester of classes abroad, with six weeks of travel through Europe and six weeks at Oxford University. He says he wants to use this experience to “meet people around Europe, network, and get myself immersed in culture to learn about customs and society.”
This, he says, will expand his way of thinking and understanding.
In five years, Alvarez says he sees himself in one of the top tech companies learning.
“I really want to better my skills and learn as much as I can in my first years of my career so I can improve as much as I can in those big companies and eventually start my own.”
Barr agrees entrepreneurship is in Alvarez’s future.
“I see him graduating college probably near the top of his class and possibly even starting his own business,” Barr said. “He’s one of those students where if he sees something that needs to get done, he’ll do it.”
Said Paine: “I think he will go on to do great things. Not only is he going to be spreading positivity wherever he goes, brightening up every space he occupies, but he will also be accomplishing his dreams.”
Alvarez is grateful to be chosen for the Star Senior honor.
“To me it’s showing that all I’ve done throughout my life, every single little effort I’ve done is actually coming to an end right now for my high school career,” he explained. “It might even show that the decisions I’ve made have actually been to my benefit and have been good decisions, to put it simply.”
Released Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Ma ‘Kylar Morris is Chattahoochee High’s Star Senior. Morris has a unique story to tell. When she decided she wanted to attend Chattahoochee, rather than the school in her district, she was able to do so because her mother was a district employee. Her mother applied for an employee hardship transfer and Morris began her daily 100-mile commute to and from school.
Deborah Blount, Chattahoochee High counselor, believes Morris was chosen as Star Senior because of her perseverance, one example of which is demonstrated in her daily commute. Blount said, “she has extreme commitment to her academics and has made sacrifices to make sure that she is in a school that's going to prepare her best for her future.”
One of Morris’ favorite instructors, Music Teacher Nicholas Garofalo, said: “When you think about a Star Senior you have to think about numerous factors that would qualify the student, including dedication, commitment, and sacrifice outside of regular expectations. She far exceeds these factors with students in her age group.”
Five years from now, Morris hopes to see herself on a solid career path with a firm understanding of what she wants to do in life. However, her aspirations in the near future include acclimating to college. “My first goal after graduation is to really get acquainted with my college and the people there because one thing I find really important is comfortability in your environment,” Morris said.
“I don't think she's going to be satisfied with just her bachelor’s degree,” Blount said. “I think she will continue on to a master’s degree or even further.”
Garofalo added, “I see her as a high-level executive running the world.”
After graduation, Morris will attend Washington University on a full scholarship, courtesy of the QuestBridge College Prep Scholars Program. This program is designed for high achieving, low-income high school students.
Garofalo has this advice for Morris: “Allow yourself to get knocked down, so you can get back up. The more bruises you have in life the more successful you are going to be.”
Morris lives by the mantra, ’Keep going.’ “No matter how horrible things are right now, as long as you keep going, things will get better.”
Released Tuesday, May 17, 2022
Centennial HS 2022 Star Senior - Jennifer Mendoza
Jennifer Mendoza is Centennial High’s Star Senior. Known for being a leader, she is part of the Chick-fil-A Leader Academy. Mendoza has spent her high school career studying leadership and service and making her community a better place.
Centennial High Counselor Nsikan Ekpo is the sponsor of the school’s Chick-fil-A Leader Academy.
“Students are charged with not only learning leadership skills, but they’re charged with also implementing it,” Ekpo explained. “It is not enough to sit through a class and learn leadership. You have got to demonstrate it and bring the community into it. She has been doing this since her freshman year.”
Mendoza has worked to develop this natural ability.
“It is because her leadership is genuine, her passions run deep, her service runs deep,” said Ekpo. “She is a genuine student leader. She is altruistic. She likes to pull students into her knowledge base. She has to share that with other students.”
Being named Star Senior, said Mendoza, is “a way for me to measure my growth. I have always had a goal when I started high school and in life in general. It is a way for me to celebrate my accomplishments from my freshman year to my senior year.”
Mendoza will attend Boston University in the fall as the first generation from her family to attend college. After college graduation, she plans to attend law school.
“She’s a wonderful student who has been motivated the three years I’ve know her,” said Centennial High French teacher Marylou Wiesendanger. “Even when we were doing hybrid she was always in class, she was always participating.”
“As far as I’m concerned, she’s one of the best students at Centennial,” Wiesendanger said. “Jennifer can be anywhere in five years, anywhere she wants to be. I can see her taking over the world if she wants.”
Said Ekpo: “She will be doing something of service, she will be targeting underprivileged populations, and she will be amazing at whatever it is. As long as she stays true to herself success will follow.”
As Mendoza leaves high school, she offers this advice to incoming first-year high school students: “Even when they tell you you can’t do something, you can do it. That’s what I always go by.”
Released Monday, May 16, 2022
Roswell HS 2022 Star Senior - Jayden Aquino
Jayden Aquino is Roswell High’s Star Senior. After four years at Roswell High, Aquino has advice for incoming first year students.
“You need to immerse yourself in every way you can, whether it be clubs, classes, find what you like and stick with that,” he said. “You’ll find friends that will help you navigate through high school.”
This is advice Aquino himself has followed. Besides focusing heavily on his academics, he has been part of marching band, jazz band, indoor drumline, Interact Club, Beta Club and Science National Honor Society. He was brass captain in band and played lead trumpet in the pit orchestra. In addition, he is part of a student technical support team that helps students with their devices.
“He’s extremely talented on trumpet,” said Roswell High School Band Director Josh Roberts. “He’s an integral part of our band.”
Aquino is an important part of the classroom too. In teacher Beau Chilton’s advanced placement physics class, Chilton said, “He always brings a little something more to the classroom than a traditional student.”
“Jayden’s greatest accomplishment [is] his ability to lead others,” said Chilton. “In the classroom you can see that leadership come out, that curiosity come out and that friendliness with others.”
As Aquino continues his academic career, he plans to major in computer engineering and one day start his own technological company.
“I admire Steve Jobs because I’m interested in computer engineering and I like how he used innovation to create something new, and it’s really changed our lives for the better,” explained Aquino.
The idea of changing the world for the better fits in with Aquino’s personal mantra, “With great power comes great responsibility,” credited to Spiderman, his favorite superhero.
“I just connect with that a lot because it shows how we can use our potential, but we don’t do so to hurt others,” explained Aquino. “We constantly use it to build ourselves up and help others.”
Said Roberts: “We just love having Jayden around. We are going to miss him a lot next year. He is clearly a motivated young man and that will take him far.”
Chilton feels similarly. “He is a pretty amazing kid. What really makes him shine is that ability to get along with others and work well with a team.”
Released Thursday, May 12, 2022
Langston Hughes HS 2022 Star Senior - Christopher Chambers
Christopher Chambers is Langston Hughes High’s Star Senior. When his mother, Tafoya Jones, died of acute heart failure his 11th grade year, he thought he could not go on. “When she passed, it was very hard on me,” Chambers said. “I couldn’t go to school, get assignments done, or even talk to people.”
Langston Hughes College & Career Advisor Sandra Allen said, “Christopher’s mother shared with me that she was having a heart transplant and that Christopher was her caregiver.” “She asked me to put him in an online English class because he was traveling back and forth from Atlanta to Los Angeles to deal with her medical issues. This was the most unusual request I have ever received.”
When Christopher’s mother died, Allen used her request to convince him to get back into his school studies. “I reached out to his college instructor, and she told me had stopped logging on for courses,” Allen said. “I contacted Christopher and told him this was your mother’s last request, for you to finish school. We have got to see it through.”
In time, Chambers was able to come back to school, talk to people and even tell them what had happened to him. Hope Worrell, head counselor at Langston Hughes, said, “Christopher has overcome so many obstacles to be successful. We are so proud of him.”
Assistant Principal Dr. Mashawn Duncan-Young agreed. “The Langston Hughes family has embraced Christopher because of all he is overcome after losing his mother. He is also one of 65 Principal’s Scholars.”
When Chambers graduates from Langston Hughes in May, he will also receive an associate degree in Pre-Nursing and General Studies from Georgia Military College (GMC). He is one of 59 Langston Hughes seniors who will graduate with dual degrees.
Five years from now, Chambers hopes to be working in the medical field and writing. “English Language Arts (ELA) is my favorite subject,” he said. “I believe that through writing you can express yourself and show how you think. Writing tells who you are.”
Chambers’ grandfather, Earl Jones, is certain he will succeed in anything he sets his mind to do. “He’s had some obstacles to overcome,” Jones said. “He was a premature birth, born three months before his due date, and he’s had to deal with his mother’s illness and death.”
But it is his resilience that has earned Chambers the Star Senior recognition. “This honor has brought a lot of unexpected joy to me,” Chambers said. “It shows me that I’m here in this position because of what I’ve gone through.”
Singer Selena Gomez, who has also gone through her share of medical issues, penned Chambers’ favorite quote, “If you are broken, you don’t have to stay broken.”
Released Wednesday, May 11, 2022
Independence HS 2022 Star Senior - Alyssa Estrada
Alyssa Estrada is Independence High’s Star Senior. With a resolute mindset, Estrada lives by the saying, “Everything happens for a reason.” Star Senior is quite an honor for Estrada, who did not expect to graduate high school. “We all go through our own struggles,” she said. “But it's what you choose to do with those struggles.”
Independence instructor Ashley Ellis taught Estrada in four classes during her senior year. “She models the perfect senior here at Independence High School,” Ellis said. “She's just that model student I find myself trying to go back to and find the work that she submitted to use as an example for all my future students. She is just hardworking, dedicated, and she models everything that we want in the Independence student.”
Independence Graduation Coach Chelsea Dreyer, agrees. “She's a wonderful young woman to work with,” Dreyer said. “She has such a strong demeanor but also a kindness. She has a very strong disposition but with that comes her kindness and compassion.”
Five years from now Estrada sees herself pursuing a teaching degree. “I want to [study] early education,” she said. “Hopefully, I'll be doing student teaching or actually have my first classroom.”
It was the support of Independence instructors that encouraged Estrada to finish high school. “One accomplishment I’m proud of is graduating high school,” Estrada said. “I never thought I could do it. It was a big struggle for me and just coming here and having teachers support me is just something that I was able to achieve.”
As a goal-oriented individual, Estrada advises peers following in her footsteps to incorporate discipline. “Do your homework,” she said. “It seems boring, it seems like a drag, but homework just really goes a long way, especially with grades.”
Estrada's combination of a strong work ethic mixed with kindness and compassion are traits her instructors believe will aid in her success. “Whatever she does choose she'll be very passionate about, and she'll see it through,” Ellis said.
With humility, Estrada is proud to be recognized as Independence’s Star Senior. “Being chosen Star Senior proved a lot to me of what I can do with school because before coming to Independence I honestly did not have a respect for school,” she said. “Coming here, and having a work ethic, and having teachers support me, I kind of just was like, I can do this.”
Released Tuesday, May 10, 2022
Cambridge HS 2022 Star Senior – Kendall Clemmer
Kendall Clemmer is Cambridge High School’s Star Senior. Cambridge High has a mantra: “Be the bridge.”
History teacher Lauren Hall explained, “It is the idea that students seek to reach out to other students, seek to support each other and seek to be empathetic and compassionate to each other.”
According to Hall, Star Senior Kendall Clemmer lives this mantra.
“I really think Kendall embodies all those spirits that we want our students at Cambridge to come out having,” said Hall. “Kendall is an exceptional student, but more importantly than that, she has a lot of compassion and empathy and resilience.”
Clemmer’s school counselor, Amey Rishel, said: “She really embodies Cambridge High School. She is involved in athletics, clubs, she’s a great student, she takes high-level classes, she’s involved in our pathways. She is a perfect example of an all-around student.”
“I was really, really honored to be considered,” said Clemmer. “It has really meant a lot to me that I was chosen to represent Cambridge High School.”
When Hall and Rishel think of Clemmer, one particular memory comes to mind for them both. During Clemmer’s junior year, she showed up to take her advanced placement language arts exam without her shoes. She had left for school while her home was on fire.
“She had to take the exam,” said Rishel. “It was important to her. She was determined to stay and to take the exam.”
Clemmer is proud of how she handled that day.
“The fact that I was able to take that exam and persevere through all the emotional heartache and trauma I was going through,” she said. “It proved that I was a lot more mentally tough than I ever thought I was.”
The next day, Clemmer showed up to compete in a track meet with her team.
“It was so important to be there for her team,” said Hall. “She leads by example, whether it’s in her actions in the classroom or in sports. She is going to go out of her way to do the right thing and have people follow.”
Said Rishel about Clemmer’s future, “Wherever she is she is going to be an asset to her community.”
Released Monday, May 9, 2022
Alpharetta HS 2022 Star Senior - Aria Vaghefi
Aria Vaghefi is recognized as the Star Senior at Alpharetta High School, after four years of working hard and showing determination.
“I think Aria is one of the more well-respected students by the faculty and staff and by his peers,” explained Vaghefi’s math teacher Jeff Cohen. “He’s good academically and is a good person. He’s just a really nice guy. He’s got this aura about him.”
Cohen taught Vaghefi when classes were virtual, and he always remained genuinely engaged in class. Cohen says he was a great participator in online classes, asking good questions, answering questions and staying focused.
“Sometimes it felt like pulling teeth out of students at home, but he never made it that way,” said Cohen. “[He asked] well thought-out questions.”
“He’s a great student,” said Vaghefi‘s counselor Karen Bolt. “[He took] 15 AP and dual enrollment courses and [has] a high A average. He’s respectful, humble, intelligent, driven.”
According to Vaghefi, his biggest high school accomplishment is being named a finalist for the Questbridge Scholarship and getting into his first college.
“[It is] a scholarship meant for first [generation] low-income kids that need more help financially getting into top private schools,” explained Vaghefi.
According to QuestBridge's website, the foundation provides full, four-year scholarships worth over $200,000 each to students attending partner colleges and universities.
After graduation Vaghefi plans to travel to the University of Southern California, where he will attend college. In five years, he hopes to have graduated from college, be pursuing his MBA in financial engineering and working as a financial analyst.
Cohen can envision Vaghefi in a corporate job in five years, seeing where life is going to take him.
“I think he’s open-minded enough to know that if he picks the wrong thing at first, he has a lot of life left in him and can choose something else,” said Cohen.
Bolt has no doubt this is possible for Vaghefi.
“He will be successful wherever he is,” she said. “I’m very proud of him.”
Cohen agreed saying, “You have a lot of great qualities. Just know you are going to succeed no matter what you do.”
After four years in high school, Vaghefi offers this advice to incoming first-year students: “Enjoy your time in high school. Make a lot of good friends and memories.”
Released Thursday, May 5, 2022
Johns Creek HS 2022 Star Senior - Carson Kennedy
Carson Kennedy is Johns Creek High’s Star Senior. The captain of the school’s swimming team, he helped lead the school to its third state championship in four years. He is also Student Council president.
“I’ve really enjoyed my time here at Johns Creek,” Kennedy said. “It feels really good that I’ve had some impact here.”
Johns Creek Principal Chris Shearer agrees that Kennedy has had an impact, particularly after the pandemic. “Not only is he talented academically, but he’s helped lead the effort to help us come back and have a normal school year,” Shearer said. “Carson headed the student committee that looked at a way to reboot school spirit. We wanted to put our brand on things. We needed to be spirited about Johns Creek. Carson and others decided this would be their legacy. It became a creed for us.”
Kennedy calls the group that led the school spirit effort, the Gladiator Army.
“Being with the student body and all of us showing unity was really good,” Kennedy said.
He has this advice for students entering Johns Creek next year. “My mantra is to always keep moving forward,” Kennedy said. “On days when I’m struggling and I can’t make a giant step, I make one step forward towards being better.”
Being better also includes getting involved with clubs and organizations and getting to know your teachers. “You want to have conversations with your teachers,” Kennedy said. “Learn how the school works. Everyone is here to help you succeed.”
Kennedy’s favorite teacher, Jordan Smith, notes that he is a well-rounded student who cares for others. “Outside of the classroom, if you go to a sporting, theater or musical event, he’s probably there,” said Smith. “And he’s probably in the front row, screaming his head off.”
When he graduates from Johns Creek, Kennedy hopes to move forward in the study of medicine, but he also plans to pursue another passion. “I know it may sound silly, but I’ve always wanted to learn how to play the guitar,” Kennedy said. No doubt he will succeed.
“He’s pretty unstoppable,” Smith said.
Released Wednesday, May 4, 2022
Creekside HS 2022 Star Senior - Grace Okpurukre
Grace Okpurukre is Creekside High’s Star Senior. The daughter of Nigerian immigrants, she is the first in her family to be born in America. “Coming to America in 2000 was a fresh start for my sister and mother,” Okpurukre said. “My father came in 2001 and they had to build from the bottom up. My mother owns two hair salons, and my father is a pastor.”
With the determination instilled from the Nigerian culture, Okpurukre lives by the saying, “Naija No Dey Carry Last,” the unofficial national motto of Nigeria. “In Nigerian, the saying means we don’t take last place,” she said. “I have always pushed forward to be at the top of my class here at Creekside. I am always thinking about how I can get better.”
Creekside High Band Director Dexter Bailey, Jr. has known Okpurukre since she was in the sixth grade. “Grace is a model student,” Bailey said. “In the band program she has served as a student leader for four years. She is captain of the French horn section and works as a mentor with younger students. She is a hard worker and a wonderful musician.”
Creekside Principal Frankie Pollock, Jr., agrees. “Grace actually exemplifies what a Creekside student should be,” Pollock said. “She’s very outgoing and energetic and focused on her future.”
Five years from now Okpurukre sees herself achieving her career goal. “I have a plethora of schools that I’m looking at now,” she said. “My top schools are the University of Georgia and Mercer. I plan to major in Business Administration and later go on to law school to achieve my goal of being a corporate attorney.”
Her favorite subjects, music and math, are helping to push her forward. “Math challenges me,” Okpurukre said. “I like doing calculations and problem solving. Music allows me to be creative and helps me to breathe and relieve stress.”
While working in her mother’s hair salons gives her a creative outlet, it also develops her communications skills. “I am a very creative person,” she said. “Braiding hair helps me build relationships with customers and help my mother. I also do my own hair.”
Okpurukre’s musical ability has given her the opportunity to lead. “She represents Creekside in the Fulton County Schools District Honor Band,” Bailey said. “She definitely was a star student before she received this award.”
With quiet confidence, Okpurukre is proud to be recognized as Creekside’s Star Senior. “It means I’m held to a high standard here at Creekside,” she said. “I’m used as an influence for my peers to be the best version of themselves they can be.”
Released Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Banneker HS 2022 Star Senior - Jalen Walton
Jalen Walton is Banneker High School’s Star Senior. When Walton’s mother, Michele White, became gravely ill he set a goal to graduate early. When she died, he set new goals. “Unfortunately, she passed away October 25, 2021,” Walton said. “My mom was an amazing woman who cared about everyone around her. Her legacy is ‘don’t ever give up.’ Always do right by people no matter how bad they treat you, and she told us to spread kindness and love.”
Banneker Principal Dr. Jason Stamper was also Walton’s middle school principal. He knew Walton from the time he was in the sixth grade. “His mom was always his biggest fan,” Dr. Stamper said. “She wanted to make sure he had everything available to him to make him successful.”
The passing of Michele White cemented Walton’s maturity. “He’s always been mature beyond his years,” Dr. Stamper said. “I admire him as a student, young man, and as a person.”
To honor his mother’s desire for him to spread kindness and love, Walton volunteers as a peer facilitator. Counselor Tamechia Bernard said: “If I ask him to give a positive word to a student, he does. Typically, the student is very receptive to him because of his delivery and his gentleness. He is also very real.”
Khaleelah Mack, Walton’s favorite teacher, agrees. “He takes a general music class from me,” Mack said. “In that class, if he’s not there, his presence is missed. He’s just a joy to be around.”
Five years from now, Walton plans to be a real estate agent, like counselor Tamechia Bernard. “I’m a real estate broker,” she said. “We have a bond because he is very interested in real estate as a career.”
Principal Stamper conquers. “He’s a young man who seeks out knowledge,” Dr. Stamper said. “Right now, he’s a student in a real estate class. How many high school students are enrolled in real estate classes? He’s basically securing his future.”
Walton’s dedication to purpose is why he was chosen as Banneker’s Star Senior. “He’s a young man who, no matter what obstacles are placed in front of him, will find a way to overcome them,” Dr. Stamper said.
Why real estate? “I want to be a real estate agent because it’s something I have a passion for,” Walton said. “I love looking at different homes and I love putting things together. I feel like I can find someone’s perfect dream home.”
Walton has fulfilled his mother’s dream for him, by completing all requirements to graduate from Banneker High. Every day he looks into the mirror and says, “I’m amazing.” He quickly follows it up by texting friends and family with “You’re amazing.”
How has he survived the loss of his mother, his biggest fan? “Always be the best you,” he said. “Never give up no matter what happens in your life.”
Released Monday, May 2, 2022