What is usually designated as “top ten’s” for Cummings High School became a “top twelve” this year after some of the school’s high-ranking graduating seniors tied on their grade point averages.
Of these top students, all but one will be attending college in the fall, with the single student heading off to serve the country as part of the U.S. Army Reserve. The remaining students will be venturing out to nine different colleges across the state.
This year’s graduating class is also led by two first-generation students, valedictorian Jocelyn Cruz-Cuna and salutatorian Bridget Peralta, the former of whom is the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Next month, the two graduates will attend the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.
The top twelve graduating students for Cummings High School, listed alphabetically, are:
McKensie M. Aiken, the daughter of David and Misty Aiken of Burlington, will be attending North Carolina State University this fall.
Terming it a “hard decision,” the graduate says her favorite class was calculus with Jeffrey Lawson. “He knew we all had potential and tried to make sure we showed it,” she says. “Even with how hard the course was, having him as a teacher made me keep my love for math.”
Aiken’s most cherished memories as a high school student also tie into her academic experiences, with the graduate recalling her pre-calculus and AP language classes as the most memorable.
“There were some pretty fun times in those classes, and they actually made me feel like I was part of something, even if I wasn’t all that close with others,” she remembers. Elaborating on her quiet nature, she adds, “[I] might be shy at first, but I’m more outgoing than it seems – just got to get to know me.”
Jocelyn Cruz-Cuna, the daughter of Gilberto Cruz Hernandez and Maria Cuna of Burlington, will be attending the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this fall with the help of three scholarships. A point of pride for the graduate is her place as a first-generation student and the child of two Mexican immigrants.
During her time at Cummings, Cruz-Cuna was a member of Lady PEARLS, an all-female group “involved in community service, mentoring, and leadership,” according to the high school; student council; and the school’s student mentor program.
Jocelyn Cruz-CunaWhile the graduate says that her favorite courses revolved around math, AP English language and composition teacher Paula Fields was her favorite instructor.
“She was very supportive and a great teacher,” Cruz-Cuna says. “[She] even wrote all of my letters of recommendation.”
The graduate says that being announced as valedictorian of her class was the most memorable experience of her high school years.
“It is something that I wanted since middle school,” she explains. “I was ecstatic and beyond proud of myself.”
Mirona Jackson, the daughter of Beatrice Jackson of Burlington, will be attending Winston-Salem State University this fall with the assistance of numerous scholarships. Brimming with tenacity, she humbly describes herself as “just a girl with a big dream.”
Jackson’s time with the school band – which included the subsets of marching, symphonic, pep, and jazz – also stands as her favorite class. Taught by Greg Milton, the graduate says the band director “encouraged me and helped me prepare for my future.”
Her favorite memories at Cummings are also linked to band, with Jackson recalling band performances, as well as assemblies and after-school activities, as the stand-out events of her high school years.
Hannah Khamvanthong, the daughter of Bouthanh and Thanhchau Khamvanthong of Burlington, will be attending North Carolina A&T State University this fall to study computer science with the assistance of numerous scholarships.
During her time at Cummings, Khamvanthong was a member of Lady PEARLS and art club and served as co-secretary for both the multicultural club and College Ambassadors – she was also historian for the ambassadors – and vice president of SkillsUSA, a nationwide career and technical organization aimed at students.
Khamvanthong recalls the Python programming class as her favorite, noting her love for coding and math’s involvement in the process. During the course, she earned her MTA: Introduction to Programming Using Python credential, a point of pride for the graduate. Her favorite teacher, Chad Cook, led her civics and economics class.
A memory that the graduate cherishes is having spoken to her fellow students over the announcements about breast cancer awareness month.
Paola Barrera Mancilla, the daughter of Marco Barrera and Blanca Mancilla of Burlington, will be enlisting in the U.S. Army Reserve.
During her time at Cummings, Mancilla participated in the City Gate Food Drive, played soccer, and was a member of College Ambassadors, ACYAC, PhotoVoice, and City Gate Camp, where she served as a leader.
Mancilla considers teacher Avery Artis, who led her math 1 course, to have been her favorite teacher, explaining, “I struggled with math and didn’t like it, but he pushed me to do better, and he had this phrase that now sticks with me: ‘the strong survive; the weak repeat.’”
The graduate says she cherishes her high school experience – from highs to lows and lessons learned – and that it taught her “the value of hard work and dedication.”
“It seems like it went by so fast,” she adds. Recalling her accomplishments in high school, Mancilla dedicates them to her parents, who she says pushed her to do better.
Leslie Aviles Mendoza, the daughter of Maria A. Mendoza Martinez of Burlington, will be attending Elon University this fall as the recipient of two scholarships. Speaking on her future plans, the graduate says, “I want to be able to help others and make an impact in other people’s lives.”
During her time at Cummings, Mendoza was a member of College Ambassadors, Lady PEARLS, and the multicultural club.
The graduate considers AP English language and composition, taught by Paula Fields, to have been her favorite class. Fields, she says, made her classroom a “safe environment for not just learning, but also for letting us open up about our issues.”
“I remember when many of us had things going on in our lives and we were visibly struggling, including myself, she made us take out a piece of paper and write it all down,” Mendoza says. “It made me feel much better afterwards. Taking my first AP course with her was the best thing that could have happened.”
Looking back nearly four years ago, the graduate says she counts her first day at Cummings, during which she searched for her classrooms and familiar faces, as her most memorable high school experience.
Dontae Neddham, the son of Michael Neddham of Burlington, will be attending Appalachian State University this fall with the help of two scholarships.
During his time at Cummings, Neddham played varsity football and was a member of the Dream Team. Aligning with his love for athletics was his favorite class, weightlifting. His favorite teachers were Jacob Cornatzer and James Coble.
The graduate points to spending time with friends and growing up alongside them as his most cherished high school experience.
Estefani Isleno Palacios, the daughter of Sonia Palacios of Burlington, will be attending Alamance Community College this fall.
Palacios considers chemistry to have been her favorite class, but English teacher Tonya Cope to have been her favorite instructor. Cope’s class, the graduate says, was “the most fundamental” to her.
Bridget Peralta, the daughter of Victor and Dalia Peralta of Burlington, will be attending the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this fall. The recipient of several scholarships, Peralta, a first-generation student, was also accepted to Wake Forest and Elon universities.
During her time at Cummings, Peralta was a member of the multicultural, Key, and art clubs as well as College Ambassadors and the Elon Academy.
The graduate points to beginning visual arts as having been her favorite class, and Mihoshoty Yamaguchi as her favorite instructor. Of the class, she says, “I was able to express myself through artwork and have interesting conversations in class.” Referring to Yamaguchi, Peralta commends the teacher for her dedication to helping her students grasp the material, which included after-school hours spent helping students complete their work and improve their grades.
Outside of class, she says that her most memorable experience was attending pep rally and homecoming her junior year, during which she cheered for her school.
Michelle Peralta, the daughter of Luis Peralta and Patricia Correa of Burlington, will be attending the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this fall.
During her time at Cummings, Peralta was a member of the multicultural club. The graduate considers calculus with Jeffrey Lawson to have been her favorite class, due in large part to Lawson’s support.
“Even when dealing with the complexity of the work,” she says, “Mr. Lawson always believed in us and never let us talk down on ourselves.”
Outside of the classroom, she cherishes the pep rallies, which brought together the entire student body is a show of support for the school’s athletic teams.
Looking over her past achievements, Peralta says, “I did everything for my family.”
Ricardo Javier Rodriguez, the son of Antonio Rodriguez and Yeni Romero of Burlington, will be attending Full Sail University in Florida this fall with the assistance of two scholarships.
During his time at Cummings, Rodriguez was a member of art club and played on the soccer and tennis teams.
Ricardo Javier RodriquezThe graduate considers English II with Jacob Cornatzer to have been his favorite class, adding, “I got to enjoy and figure out my creative side when it comes to writing, and it introduced me to my route during college.”
His most cherished high school experience was scoring a goal against Carrboro’s soccer team, which he described as being the most difficult team he faced.
“Being able to score my first and only goal in high school felt really good against this team,” he recalls.
Roberto Velasquez, the son of Rosa Figueroa of Burlington, will be attending North Carolina Central University this fall with the help of two scholarships.
While at Cummings, Velasquez served as a junior marshal and played in marching band, the latter of which he counts as his most memorable high school experience. His favorite class was band with Greg Milton.
Read other coverage about top 2021 graduates at other local high schools: