|PHOTO | ASHLEY MAHONEY|
|Berry Academy's Kelsey McDowell, left, earned the Charlotte Post Foundation Top Senior of the Year Award while West Charlotte High's Kaycee Hailey earned the runner up prize.|
The Charlotte Post Foundation celebrated the 234 members of the 2019 Top Senior class at a banquet Monday at Mount Carmel Baptist Church. It marks the 45th year of The Charlotte Post newspaper highlighting the achievements of African American students. A formal gala to honor the Top Senior and runner-up as well as the foundation’s educator of the year and luminary will take place in the fall.
“You are now the dawn and the new day,” said spoken word artist Hannah Hasan said in a poem to start the event.
Phillip O. Berry Academy’s Kelsey McDowell, who earned Top Senior, will attend UNC Chapel Hill. West Charlotte High School’s Kaycee Hailey, the Top Senior runner-up, will attend Duke University. She was also the recipient of the inaugural Strive for Greatness Scholarship ($1,000), created by 2018 Top Senior Kyle Polanco. The Hough High alumnus and UNC freshman took a portion of his scholarship from last year and teamed up with community partners to establish the award through the foundation. Kyle’s mother Joy Polanco and a member of their church distributed the inaugural awards. McDowell and Hailey received new MacBook Air laptops.
“Kyle wishes he could be here,” Joy Polanco said. “He had to go back to Chapel Hill on Saturday, and start his eight-week medical program. He just finished up his freshman year, and he wishes all of you guys the best of luck. He just wants you to keep striving.”
Some students are familiar with the program, having older siblings who participated in the program, such as Hailey’s older sister Sydnee—a 2015 Top Senior.
“The Top Senior award is a rite of passage,” Hailey said.
Some became acquainted with the program through nominating letters informing students they qualified to apply for the Top Senior scholarship.
“I actually got a letter in my P.O. box,” said Charlotte-Mecklenburg virtual student Gillian Wedemeyer. “That’s how I heard about it.”
For others who are the oldest child in their family, like Jon Bell, it’s paving the way for younger siblings. The Berry Academy senior student heads to Winston-Salem State University in the fall.
“I became familiar with the Top Senior program through my parents,” Bell said. “Those are the people who helped me through high school, 100 percent. If it wasn’t for them, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to make it through high school. I just want to thank them, a lot, and thank you Top Seniors for helping us get recognized for all the hard work we put in.”
The keynote speaker, Patrick Griffin, challenged students to “change the narrative.” He cautioned that contemporary society has a new narrator in social media. Yet he also reminded them that, “you change the narrative by telling your story.”
“We’ve got to get back to telling our collective stories, because my dad’s generation—all of us are standing on their shoulders,” Griffin said. “I’m not against social media. I love social media, because it can be of value, but we need to start using it to share our collective positive stories.”