Celebrating our 2019 Valedictorians, Salutatorians, and STAR Students, and Knowing When to Pick Your Right Moment!

It’s that time of year! It’s time to celebrate!

I wish everyone could have seen our shining stars this morning at our annual Val/Sal/STAR Awards ceremony at the Georgia Power corporate headquarters building. Our students’ accomplishments, academic achievements and positive outlook shone brightly across the room.

Click here to watch an exciting video of each of our Vals, Sals, and STAR students introducing themselves and explaining the work they put in to achieve their goals.

This is my fifth year presenting the challenge to our outstanding student scholars, and every year I am impressed by these academic superstars who overcome all obstacles in order to succeed. That commitment takes grit, it takes perseverance, and it takes self confidence. But, it also means not bowing at the feet of failure, as our eloquent mistress of ceremony, Kireon Bunkley-Hill, stated.  

I shared with our students that even in the face of adversity, we must not only have the courage to act, we must know when to act in order to have long-lasting impact.

Let’s look at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the example he set for us. Dr. King showed us how to make the right choices in leadership and when to pick the right moment to act – even amid adversity and discomfort – to make a greater gain later.

If we were to travel back to this very week in 1944, we would find that a young Dr. King – a junior at our own Booker T. Washington High School – has won a Black Elks oratorical contest that earns him a trip to the state contest in Dublin, Georgia. Anticipation and excitement for the young King is high. But on the long bus trip, the driver keeps telling King and his teacher that they must surrender their seats to white passengers.

At first, King refuses. But, his teacher convinces him they should give up their seats. They would not win that fight on that day. That wasn’t the right time. Fast forward a decade to 1955, and King leads the Montgomery Bus Boycott to protest black passengers giving up seats to white ones.

Fast Forward again, another 10 years, to Selma, Alabama in 1965.

King leads the Selma to Montgomery march that spurred passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  But what few people know is that there was actually a third march between the two historical marches (Bloody Sunday and Selma to Montgomery), the one that took a couple hundred people to the bridge and stopped and then turned around.

Dr. King — and this was on a Tuesday just two days after the infamous Bloody Sunday — led some 2,500 marchers on that day. He took them right up to the edge of the Edmond Pettus Bridge. But he wouldn’t let them cross the bridge, not AT THAT TIME.

There was a federal restraining order that would not protect the march, and would not ensure safe passage across the bridge, protecting the marchers from the police, their dogs, their billy clubs, and their guns. Dr. King took the marchers to the bridge, right up to the edge. They prayed. And they turned around.

Dr. King could have taken the marchers across the bridge and faced what very likely would have become a very, very Bloody Tuesday. But he thought ahead and never lost sight of the overall goal. A second bloody march would not have likely advanced the cause, perhaps some may have seen it as a careless waste of lives if some were killed.

For me, that decision to wait demonstrated amazing courage, a certain valor of waiting and turning around. He knew greater outcomes would come to the marchers if he picked the RIGHT moment to push ahead.

And when forced into reflection, often sitting in jail for his beliefs, he used those moments to map out a framework aimed at creating a lasting impact.

Dr. King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,”  provides King’s perspective on a Beloved Community and has become a blueprint for lasting change. Through his teachings of love in action, Dr. King has given us six steps to social and interpersonal change as articulated by the King Center here in Atlanta: information gathering, education, personal commitment, discussion/negotiation, direct action, and reconciliation. Read my previous blog to learn more about these steps.

In reviewing the hard work of our 2019 Vals, Sals, and STAR students, many of their steps mirror those of the action steps to social and interpersonal change.

I can see evidence of the step of Information Gathering in our researchers Kyndall, Jaedyn, Degreer and Niani; our engineers Xavier, Jake, Thomas and Marco; our software and artificial intelligence developers Yusef, Khadim and Tam; and our mathematician Robert and our neuroscientist William.

Education is represented in Natalie, our future educational policy analyst; our kindergarten teacher Kendrecus; our graphic designer Amir; our health policy advisor Emery, our financial analyst, India and our photographer Haley.

Personal Commitment is personified in Charity, who wants to be a Green Beret; Angel, who plans to be an FBI agent; and Peyton, who wants to be a business leader and mentor.

Discussion and Negotiation is evident in our debaters, Mikale and Eric; future attorneys, Drehanna and Ese; and entrepreneur Alahaji.

I see quite a transformation in our students as they plan to take Direct Action by going into medicine and veterinary science. They are Hannah, MacKenzie, Myles, Princess, Niya, Dailyn, Abigail, DeMaria and George.

And finally, I see transformation in our students Reconciliation with their plans to go into the fields of psychology like Ayanna and Ashley or go into humanitarian endeavors like Darling!

But more work lies ahead and so do new and sometimes difficult challenges. In those moments, even when we’re winning and succeeding, I encourage all of us to take a step back, remember the lessons of Dr. King, recognize the right time and pick your right moment. Long-lasting impact is the goal.  Know when to retreat and reset and when to unleash all that is in you to overcome any and all obstacles in your path.

I am so proud of our Vals, Sals, and STAR students and of the educators and friends who have supported them along the way.


North Atlanta High School Bel Canto Ensemble sung the national anthem at the 2019 Vals/Sals/STAR Students Awards Ceremony.
Peyton Rodgers, Valedictorian at Charles R. Drew Charter School, played a musical selection on the harp at the 2019 Vals/Sals/STAR Students Awards Ceremony.

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