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West Charlotte High scholar sees Top Seniors prize as ‘rite of passage’

Kaycee Hailey's family has legacy with initiative

Published Wednesday, April 17, 2019 7:38 pm
West Charlotte High School senior Kaycee Hailey, The Post’s Top Senior of the Year runner-up, is a scholar and accomplished violinist.

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Kaycee Hailey’s Top Senior selection is a rite of passage.

Earning The Charlotte Post Foundation’s annual honor as the 2019 runner-up is one of the highest honors for Charlotte-Mecklenburg high school seniors. The program, which was founded in 1975, celebrates academic and extracurricular excellence among black students.

Hailey and Phillip O. Berry Academy’s Kelsey McDowell, 2019’s Top Senior of the Year, will receive scholarships to the college or university of their choice. They will also be honored at the May 20 Top Senior reception at Mt. Carmel Baptist Church (7237 Tuckaseegee Road), as well as at The Post’s annual gala in October.

“For me the Top Senior [award] and the scholarship honor have been a rite of passage,” said Hailey, a senior at West Charlotte High School. “I’ve seen so many great students, people I’ve looked up to, get this honor. It was really a goal of mine to do this, and I hope to be a role model to other students by getting this honor.”

Hailey’s family is familiar with the program. Her older sister Sydnee, a senior at North Carolina Central University, earned Top Senior recognition in 2015. Kaycee is the youngest of three, with a twin sister Kamryn, who is one minute older.

Hailey excels academically, taking International Baccalaureate courses and maintaining a 4.65 grade point average in addition to mentoring peers. She also founded the DubC Student Newspaper and the West Charlotte Genders/Sexualities Alliance. Additionally, she plays violin with UNC Charlotte’s Philharmonic Orchestra.

In November, Hailey performed in front of 2,000 students and teachers from 22 high schools across the Southeast at Belk Theater during the Hamilton Education Initiative (EduHam), the conclusion of the 11-time Tony Award-winning musical’s inaugural run in Charlotte. She and fellow West Charlotte IB seniors Shazaria Hoover and Kaliyah Landrum performed their original work “Hemings: Slave Woman,” with Hailey playing violin. She stressed the importance of implementing violin based on historical significance.

Thomas Jefferson had several children with Hemings, and teaching their sons how to play the instrument was one of the ways he bonded with them.  

“We were introduced to the project, and the short list of individuals you could make your project about were more traditional,” Hailey said. “Their stories have been told so many times. I asked a teacher if I could come up with a person who was alive during that time period but who did not make that list.”
Hailey drew inspiration from one of her favorite books: “The Hemingses of Monticello” by Annette Gordon-Reed, which won a Pulitzer Prize for history.

“I was so nervous leading up to it, but then in the moment, it felt great,” Hailey said. “It felt completely natural. It felt like it was me and my friends practice in my house.”

Said West Charlotte IB English teacher Ladawna Robinson: “Believe it or not, they are really shy, so this was a big accomplishment for them. Just to see them feel accomplished, it’s just great.”

Hailey’s love affair with violin began at a young age. She played with UNCC’s orchestra throughout high school, but concluded her time in March. Now her focus shifts toward June 12  – graduation day. hailey also has to decide where she will attend school in the fall.

Will it be Davidson College, which is close to home, or further up the road to Duke University, or will she leave the state to attend an HBCU, Hampton University?

Wherever she attends, Hailey plans to study African American history, with the intention of becoming an education policy attorney.

“I like each of those schools for slightly different reasons,” she said. “My connection with Davidson is a little bit more personal, whereas my connection with Hampton, I am really interested in the history of the school, and the community that has built a history of black excellence at that school, and knowing that you come from such a strong legacy.”

Hampton appeals to Hailey for the plethora of black female mentors there.

“I’m someone who really values close relationships, and I know by going to Hampton, I would probably have a lot of black women who have probably been in my shoes before, and can really serve as mentors for me,” she said.