Central salutatorian, valedictorian focus on friendships, futures

Published 5:10 pm Thursday, June 29, 2023

On May 20, Central High School seniors walked across the stage and into the next phase of their lives. Graduation was full of excitement and messages from school leaders, accompanied by words of encouragement from their class valedictorian Raven Middleton and salutatorian Jalisha McWilliams.

Counselor Jwana Perkins leads the selection process for the salutatorian and valedictorian.

“The valedictorian is conferred upon the highest ranked student grade point average (GPA) and the salutatorian is conferred upon the student with the second highest ranking GPA,” Perkins stated.

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This year the selection process included a unique fact – the graduating class leaders are best friends. 

Perkins said, “They do everything together. It is evident that both students have remained consistent with each other in  maintaining good grades throughout their high school career.”

Perkins noted it is doubly impressive that this year’s valedictorian and salutatorian are recognized for being academic leaders. 

“Of course, this sounds so easy to do, but not for the class of 2023,” said Perkins. “The class of 2023 transitioned from middle school to high school during the beginning stages of COVID-19. During these trying times, to remain consistent was extremely difficult due to so many other circumstances that families may have been enduring.”

Middleton agreed the road to graduation was challenging, but she offers words of encouragement to her classmates. 

“I congratulate my classmates. We have faced  many obstacles on this path, but we have reached our goals,” Middleton said.

The valedictorian plans to find employment after graduation and save money to attend Alabama A&M University in the fall, majoring in computer engineering.

Middleton’s close friend and salutatorian, McWilliams, said her classmates should not limit themselves when planning their futures.

“If my classmates see anything that they really want to do, then they should do it. We all had a difficult four years of high school, but we have finally closed this chapter, and it is time to start a new one,” McWilliams said.

The salutatorian also intends to find a job after graduation to save for college in the fall.

McWilliams was a member of the Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Future Farmers of America (FFA), played clarinet, and was a member of the school’s book club.

Middleton was a member of FBLA, FFA, the book club, and served as a Golden Ambassador.

Both students said they found inspiration from many people.

“The people who inspire me the most are my mother, Latasha, and my father, Robert.” said Middleton. “They motivate me to continue working hard and expanding my dreams. They didn’t get the chance to do the things that I am doing. So, they push me to be better and do more than they were able to do.”

McWillaims said she is inspired by her family, too. “The three people who inspire me the most are my mother, grandfather, and grandmother. They always tell me that I can be the best that I can be even when others doubt me.”

Perkins said, “The Central High School valedictorian and salutatorian truly have shown what hard work, determination, and dedication look like. We are very proud of Raven and Jalisha.”                    

According to Perkins, the entire staff at Central is excited about the class of 2023. She said the wish is that graduates reach for the stars when chasing their dreams.

“Keep an open mind as you consider your options for the future. Don’t be afraid to change your job or your college major. Learning what you don’t like is just as important as learning what you do like. Make the most of your time by looking for part-time jobs, internships, or volunteer opportunities.  I’m so proud of each one of you,” Perkins said about the graduating class.

Looking forward to the incoming freshmen class, the graduates offer this advice about the road to graduation.

“Do your best and stay focused”, said Middleton. “Remove all distractions that would interrupt your studying because the four years of high school will zoom by before you know it.” 

McWilliams added, “Always put forth your best effort, and if you think it can happen, then you should actually make it happen.”