The Top 10 students at Cummings High School say they will continue their education this fall at University of North Carolina System schools that include East Carolina University, UNC-Greensboro, and UNC-Charlotte; Alamance Community College and Guilford Technical Community College; and nearby private colleges and universities. Seven of the top-ranking students at Cummings, including one whose education is being paid for by the company where he’s working as an apprentice, have been offered thousands of dollars in scholarships to attend college.
Two Top 10 students – salutatorian Melvin Lara and Kathryn Perez – were also honored earlier this year with the ABSS Superintendent’s Award of Excellence.
All of the Top 10 students at Cummings are minorities; and nine are of Latino descent. That trend mirrored the racial demographics of the high school itself, which had the largest proportion of Hispanic students (55.6 percent) of any of the six ABSS high schools and the second-highest proportion of black students (34.8 percent, behind Graham High School, which had 49.3 percent black students) among the six high schools as of the end of the first month of the 2022-23 school year.
Valedictorian Nayeli Jimenez Esteban, 17, who is the daughter of Elizardo Jimenez and Eloisa Esteban of Burlington, will head to Raleigh next month to enroll in Meredith College, where she has received a total of $105,000 in scholarships, grants, and financial aid.
Esteban says one of her favorite experiences at Cummings High School was getting to work as a student media assistant.
Esteban recalls as her most memorable experience in high school was “when they were towing cars in the parking lot and everyone ran outside to move their car.” She was a member of the Student Government Association, National Honor Society, and Key Club at Cummings.
Salutatorian Melvin Herrera Lara, 17, is the son of Graciela Lara Mendoza of Burlington. He will enroll next month at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, for which he has received a Chancellor’s Scholarship and a Spartan Scholarship, as well as a federal Pell Grant.
Lara says his favorite class at Cummings was Advanced Placement (AP) Calculus, which was also taught by his favorite teacher, Jeffrey Lawson. “Not only was it a small class, but it was people who I knew and enjoyed learning with,” Lara tells the newspaper. “Practically every day was fun,” adds the National Honor Society member.
Lara points to “the day they started towing cars and everybody started running outside to move their cars, including me” as his most memorable experience at Cummings.
The other Top 10 students in Cummings High School’s Class of 2023 are, in alphabetical order:
Angie Pacas Benavides, 18, is the daughter of Rosa Benavides of Burlington. In addition to graduating with her high school diploma, Benavides earned a professional certificate in Spanish language interpretation. She also was active in the National Honor Society at Cummings.
“I will be going to Guilford Community College to study sonography,” Benavides says.
At Cummings, Benavides’ favorite class was personal finance, taught by Anhkhoa Nguyen. “He made sure we would understand and learn. Also he believed in me and pushed me to try harder in school.”
Noemy Campos, 17, who is the daughter of Luz Martinez and Evelio Campos, is planning to attend UNCG and major in nursing, for which she has received more than $185,000 in scholarships and grants.
“Health Science I was my favorite class during high school,” Campos recalls for the newspaper. “This course helped me discover my interest in human anatomy, diseases, and disorders. My instructor for this course was [Adara] Barnes, who is also my favorite teacher.
Ms. Barnes was and always has been the most supportive teacher I’ve had. She was always informative about the different steps her students could take to get ahead in their careers. She informed me about many different opportunities, one of which included the steps I took to receive my CNA license earlier this year.”
Campos says the most memorable experience for her at Cummings was her senior prom. “Watching my peers have fun and knowing I saw most of them grow up with me throughout my life was a bittersweet moment for me,” she elaborates.
In addition to participating in the National Honor Society, Campos also served as a marshal during commencement exercises at Alamance Community College.
“I am a very ambitious and passionate person,” Campos shares. “I love my family and the everlasting support I’ve received from them.”
Alejandro Castro Cruz, 18, who’s the daughter of Sonia Cruz of Burlington, will head to the Queen City next month to enroll at UNC-Charlotte, for which she has received a scholarship from the university.
UNC-Charlotte ranked as the number one institution in North Carolina for awarding bachelor’s degrees to students of Latino heritage, according to a January 2021 report from the university that cited an analysis by Excelencia in Education, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that promotes higher education for Latino students.
Cruz says her favorite class at Cummings was Food Science Technology. A member of the Cavaliers’ girls’ soccer team, National Honor Society, and Student Government Association, she offers some succinct parting advice, “[Always] challenge yourself.”
Joseph Navarrete Devora, 18, who’s the son of Brenda Noyola of Burlington, plans to enroll in a college or university, but the National Honor Society member says he hasn’t decided where just yet.
Devora says his favorite class was Biology, which was taught by his favorite teacher, Brett Williams, “because I liked the way he teaches,” as well as his personality.
“My most memorable experience in high school,” Devora recalls, “[was] when I realized that I was about to go to the real world by myself [and started] thinking more often about my future.”
Like Cruz, Devora also offered some parting advice: “No matter how hard life is, how difficult the situations you are going through [are], the best is yet to come.”
Diego Diaz, 18, who’s the son of Lupe Diaz and Lucy Diaz of Burlington, will enroll next month at Elon University, for which he has received a $20,000 Elon University Presidential Scholarship.
Diaz says Precalculus was his favorite class at Cummings “because I finally learned some math.” He lists his favorite teachers as Jairo Roldan and Monica Montoya Matarrita, both of whom teach Spanish, because they always looked for ways to motivate their students and keep them engaged in learning.
Diaz’s most memorable experience in high school was “when I was inducted [into the National Honor Society], which finally made me be part of an amazing group of students who are now some of my closest friends.” He was also active in the guitar club at Cummings.
Luis Bailon Garcia, 17, who is the son of Nancy Almaraz of Burlington, will attend Alamance Community College, while completing an apprenticeship with Machine Specialties Incorporated (MSI), a precision parts manufacturer in Whitsett that’s also paying for his education.
“This year my favorite class was either my machining class at ACC, or Mr. Ngyuen’s Economics & Personal Finance [class], because it was so informative,” Garcia recalls for the newspaper. He says his favorite experience during high school was volunteering with his fellow members of the National Honor Society.
“I value balance and integrity [and] being able to manage life, while sticking to what you believe,” Garcia says of himself.
Elisha Jasmine Lewellyn, 18, who’s the daughter of Betty Lewellyn of Burlington, will head to Greenville next month to enroll at East Carolina University, for which she has received more than $20,000 in scholarships and financial aid.
Lewellyn says band was her favorite class at Cummings because she felt like her teacher understood her and believed in her potential. In addition to the Cavaliers’ marching band, Lewellyn was also a member of the National Honor Society and the girls’ basketball team.
Kathryn Perez, 18, daughter of Francisca Santander and Hector Perez, will be attending Guilford Technical Community College, along with her fellow Top 10 student Angie Pacas Benavides.
“My favorite class was Health Science,” Perez tells the newspaper. “I got to learn anatomy of the human body.” She says her favorite teacher at Cummings was Anhkhoa Nguyen, who she credits with introducing her to the “world of finance” and teaching her how to save her money properly. Perez was active in the National Honor Society and College Ambassadors at Cummings.
“My most memorable high school memory [was] our freshmen year getting cut short,” Perez recalls, referring to the Covid-19 global pandemic that prompted the closure of ABSS schools from March 2020 until March 2021.
Read previous stories about the top graduates from other Alamance County high schools: