The Top 10 students in Graham High School’s Class of 2021 have apparently learned two life lessons that many never master, even in adulthood: the value of hard work and how to overcome adversity, in particular the shift to online instruction brought on by Covid-19 and the widespread public school closure that has remained in effect for much of their last two years of high school.
All but two of the Top 10 students in Graham High School’s Class of 2021 graduated on Friday with Associate’s degrees from Alamance Community College, on top of their high school diplomas; and all but one student in the Top 10 at GHS plans to go on to college this fall.
The Class of 2021 is the inaugural graduating class for the “Pre-Collegiate Academy” that Graham High School launched four years ago, according to Revonda Johnson, the director of secondary education leadership for the Alamance-Burlington school system.
The Pre-Collegiate Academy at Graham High School is separate from the Alamance-Burlington Early College that is housed at ACC’s main campus in Graham, though both programs require students to take college-level coursework while simultaneously completing their requirements to graduate from high school.
Most of the students in the first graduating class for the Pre-Collegiate Academy – an accelerated academic program housed at Graham High School that enables students to earn college credits while also completing the requirements for a high school diploma – are first-generation college students, she told The Alamance News this week.
A total of 17 students in Graham High School’s Class of 2021, who were part of the first cohort for the Pre-Collegiate Academy, graduated with Associate’s degrees from ACC, in addition to their high school diplomas, Johnson elaborated Tuesday. Four of Graham High School’s Top 10 students also earned professional certificates in biotechnology, she said.
The biotechnology certificate program, which is offered through ACC, gives high school students hands-on training and skills to land entry-level jobs in biotech research or industries, as Johnson and her counterparts at the community college have previously described the program.
ABSS graduates who earn professional credentials (there are several options, in addition to the biotechnology certificate program) can also pursue advanced college degrees, according to ABSS and ACC officials. Students such as those in the Top 10 at Graham High School who graduate with Associate’s degrees have the option to enroll as a junior at a four-year college or university, under “articulation agreements” that ACC has with numerous public and private institutions throughout the state.
The names of the Top 10 seniors in Graham High School’s Class of 2021 are listed below, in alphabetical order.
Angeles Camacho Benitez, 18, is the daughter of Maria F. Benitez of Graham. Benitez graduated on Friday with her high school diploma and an Associate’s in Arts degree from
ACC. She has received a Carolina Covenant Scholarship to attend the state’s flagship university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, starting this fall.
Rachel Lopez, 18, who is the daughter of Ruben and Ana Lopez, graduated with her high school diploma, as well as an associate’s degree from ACC. Though she has opted to attend Elon University this fall, Lopez has been offered scholarships – in some cases, full rides – to attend Wingate University; Lenoir-Rhyne University; UNC-Greensboro and UNC-Charlotte; and Meredith College, among others.
During her time at Graham High School, Lopez was inducted into the National Honor Society; participated in the high school’s pre-collegiate academy; served as Red Cross Ambassador; and worked at T.J. Maxx. “Despite everything going on, I never gave up and pushed through it all,” Lopez says of her ability to succeed academically, while juggling numerous responsibilities.
Lopez has been offered $144,000 in annual scholarships to attend Elon University, as well as a $7,000 merit scholarship; a $6,000 presidential scholarship; and a $30,000 Leon and Lorraine Watson Scholarship, based on information provided by Graham High School.
Priscilla Guerrero Villagomez, 18, is the daughter of Maria Guadalupe Villagomez of Burlington. Her high school graduating class’ valedictorian, Villagomez graduated last Friday with her high school diploma, as well as an associate’s degree and biotechnology
certificate from ACC – in addition to volunteering at local elementary schools in her spare time. She plans to attend the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill this fall, Villagomez said.
Cindy Castaneda-Salazar, 17, is the daughter of Noradina Salazar of Graham. The salutatorian for Graham High School’s Class of 2021, Castaneda-Salazar earned her high school diploma, as well as an associate’s of science degree and biotechnology certificate from ACC. Her extracurricular activities have included serving in the National Honor Society; playing on the girls’ soccer team; and participating in the international club at Graham High School.
Castaneda-Salazar plans to attend UNC-Chapel Hill, for which she has received a Carolina Covenant Scholarship; a N.C. Golden Leaf Foundation scholarship; and a federal Pell grant to attend Carolina starting this fall.
Jose Torres-Reyes, 17, is the son of Maribel Reyes of Graham. He earned an associate’s degree from ACC, as well as his high school diploma, and received an Odyssey scholarship to attend Elon University. The Odyssey Program is a highly-selective merit-based scholarship program targeted toward academically successful and civic-minded
students who are leaders in their communities, according to Elon University. During his time at Graham High School, Torres-Reyes played on the boys’ soccer team; served as a member of the National Honor Society; and volunteered at Elon University.
Daysi Encelada Rodriguez, 17, is the daughter of Teresa Rodriguez of Graham. Her most memorable experience in high school has been participating in “Friends for Tech” theater club within the fine arts department at Graham High School, she recalled. During her
spare time, Rodriguez volunteered with Girls Rock NC, a youth music education program in Durham; and at the CityGate Dream Center, a community center in Burlington, she said. Rodriguez plans to attend ACC this fall.
Shana Page, 18, is the daughter of Ina Page of Graham. She graduated last Friday with her high school diploma and an associate’s degree from ACC. She volunteered at North Graham Elementary School and with Habitat for Humanity, in addition to participating in
the National Honor Society and garden club at Graham High School. Following her graduation, she plans to continue working at Walgreens, Page said.
Wendy Santiago Sosa, 18, the daughter of Alma and Ricardo Santiago of Graham, also graduated from high school with her diploma, as well as an associate’s degree and biotechnology certificate from ACC. During high school, Sosa played on the girls’ soccer team and was a member of the student council, international club, key club, and
National Honor Society. She also volunteered with DreamAlign Ministries and at North Graham Elementary School, in addition to working part-time at Subway and full-time with her mother.
“I’ve worked hard throughout high school and am only ready to continue my journey,” says Sosa, who plans to attend N.C. State University starting this fall.
Daisy Martinez, 17, is the daughter of Yajaira Bahena of Burlington and a rising freshman at UNC-Greensboro. Martinez played on the girls’ tennis team and was a member of the National Honor Society and art club at Graham High School. “Creativity
drives my passion for everything,” says Martinez, unequivocally listing art as her favorite subject and Virginia “Wendy” Lampson, who teaches visual arts, as her favorite teacher at Graham High School.
Jessica Romero, 18, of Burlington, is the daughter of Silvia Romero. She earned her high school diploma, plus an associate’s degree and a biotechnology certificate from ACC, and will enroll at UNC-Greensboro this fall.
As a student at Graham High School, Romero played on the girls’ soccer team and ran cross country; volunteered at North Graham Elementary School and at local food pantries; and worked part-time jobs at Jimmy John’s, Bojangles, Food Lion, and Crazy Mexico restaurant.