Graduating students at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, will not only have the special experience of walking across the stage to accept their diplomas but will also do so under the helm of the school’s first Black valedictorian in its 100-year history.
Alecia Washington is the Triad senior who earned this high honor. Although historic in and of itself, the graduate reveals she finds it more meaningful that her achievement impacts and inspires younger students who look like her, especially those in underserved communities.
“This is so much bigger than me,” Washington told WXII 12 News, an NBC affiliate in Winston-Salem. “I know from experience representation definitely matters. When you see somebody that looks like you and something you want to do or [are] passionate about, it makes a huge difference. It’s not something I take lightly at all.”
It’s no secret that Black students have routinely been overlooked for this honor, so this moment is an important example that students like Washington can break barriers that plague our community.
Alecia Washington just became the 1st African-American student to become Valedictorian at R.J. Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem in 100 years. She hopes this can send a positive message to younger students who look like her, especially in underserved communities. Story at 4/6 pic.twitter.com/y8wYuSGati
— Louie Tran (@louie_tran) June 8, 2023
“This is a historic moment that I’m sure my ancestors are very proud of and would say job well done,” she captioned on Instagram, according to Girls United. “I thank God for his guidance, I’m thankful for my family, friends and my amazing support system. Looking forward to graduation and celebrating this amazing class of 2023 on Sunday!”
The village of support Washington credits for making this milestone possible includes school counselor and staunch advocate Cristen Wiley and her family at home, particularly her great-grandmother, who taught her a valuable lesson.
“If you’re going to invest in anything, invest in yourself,” Washington’s great-grandmother advised her she said. “Invest in getting a good education and expand your knowledge because that is nothing nobody can take away.”
Washington’s mother, Lavonya Washington, was incredibly emotional upon learning of her daughter’s achievement as she reflected on the first African American student to grace the high school’s halls after desegregation started in the 1960s: Gwendolyn Bailey.
“[Gwendolyn] set the foundation for Alecia. I think about the challenges that she faced as a student, and it made it possible for Alecia to have this title today,” Lavonya said, according to the outlet.
Throughout her tenure at Reynolds High School, Washington was involved with several organizations dedicated to helping youth within underserved communities. That included the Ebon Society, the Student Government Association, where she served as vice president, and Youth Grant Makers in Action, where she helped create grants for student-run organizations.
“I was able to be a voice for those who didn’t feel like they were heard. I was able to bring that to my principal and bring that to the school board members if we wanted to make change,” Washington told the NBC affiliate.
In addition, this will be Washington’s second graduation in the past two months, as she also recently obtained an associate degree from the local Forsyth Technical Community College.
The former high school senior is now college-bound to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, where she will attend on a full academic scholarship through the Levine Scholars Program this fall.
Her planned educational pursuits there will aid her aspirations to pursue a career in the medical field as a pediatric nurse anesthetist.
“It’s a new chapter. I’m going into adulthood. I’m going to be living on my own in college. I’m pretty nervous about graduating, but I’m excited,” Washington said.