Eight of the Top 10 students in Graham High School’s Class of 2023 got to graduate twice: once with their peers at Graham High School and also from Alamance Community College, simultaneously earning an Associate of Arts degree along with their high school diplomas.
Six of the Top 10 students will be heading to Chapel Hill next month to attend the state’s flagship university, Carolina; two will be attending Elon University; one is attending UNC-Greensboro; and one, UNC-Charlotte.
Valedictorian Hailey Pickard, 18, who is the daughter of Tina Galanides and Steve Pickard of Burlington, graduated in June with her high school diploma and an Associate’s degree from Alamance Community College.
Pickard be heading to Chapel Hill next month to attend Carolina. The rising Tar Heel freshman says her favorite class at Graham High School was abnormal psychology, and her most memorable experience in high school was being part of the homecoming court every year.
The class valedictorian was a member of the student council and the volleyball team during all four years at Graham High School.
“The best piece of advice I could give is to surround yourself with people that have the same goals as you,” Pickard tells The Alamance News. I’m so thankful for my best friends and the support they have given me.”
Salutatorian Karen Perez Solana, 18, is the daughter of Maria Del Rocio Solana and Antonio Perez Carrillo of Graham.
Solana, who also graduated with her high school diploma and an Associate’s degree, will be heading to Chapel Hill next month to attend Carolina, for which she has received a Carolina Covenant scholarship, which is the equivalent of a full ride.
The university describes the scholarship program, established in 2004, as a debt-free path to college graduation through a combination of grants, scholarships and a work-study job.
Covenant Scholars also have access to mentoring, academic and personal support services.
Solana says her favorite class at Graham High School was “Peer Group Connections” (PGC). “We worked with freshmen and helped them transition from middle school to high school,” she elaborates.
“My favorite memory is a field trip I took for one of my classes,” the salutatorian adds. “We did a lot of team building and had a lot of fun. We did a rope course and played games together.”
Solana was active in the student government, Key Club, and National Honor Society at Graham High School.
She offers some parting advice to other students at Graham High School: “Enjoy high school as much as possible, and make as many good memories as you can. Time passes by so fast. You’ll be graduating, too, before you know it.”
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The other Top 10 students in Graham High School’s Class of 2023 are (in alphabetical order):
Destiny Anderson, 17, who’s the daughter of Amber Mize and Antwon Anderson of Graham, also simultaneously earned her high school diploma along with an Associate’s degree from ACC. She says she plans to enroll at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in the fall.
Jose Pahua Bejar, 17, who’s the son of Blanca Hernandez of Graham, also earned his high school diploma and an Associate’s degree from ACC. He will be attending Elon University.
Bejar has received an Elon Odyssey scholarship, which the university describes as a highly-selective, merit-based scholarship designated for students who are “academically strong, civically engaged, action-oriented leaders in their communities” and have a demonstrated financial need.
Fatima Barillas Coronado, 18, who’s the daughter of Alicia and Nelson Barillas of Graham, is the third Top 10 student in Graham High School’s Class of 2023 who will be heading to Chapel Hill next month to attend Carolina.
Coronado says her favorite class at Graham High School was Honors Chemistry, adding that one of her favorite memories “[was when] I was by myself in the senior square in the fall. No matter how overwhelmed I was, sitting on the benches as I looked at the changing colors of the leaves always calmed me.”
As she prepares to embark on the next chapter in her education, Coronado offered some parting advice to her fellow underclassmen at Graham High: “Change is a scary thing, but change is the key needed to open new doors of opportunities.”
Taylor Duque, 17, is the daughter of Mariela Quintero of Graham. Duque also earned her high school diploma and an Associate’s degree from ACC. She will be enrolling next month at Elon University, for which she has received an Elon Odyssey scholarship.
Daniel Romero Mota, 18, is the son of Evelina Mota of Burlington. He graduated last month with his high school diploma and an Associate’s degree from ACC. Mota is planning to head to the Queen City in August to attend the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.
Janely Najera, 18, is the daughter of Guadalupe Valdez and Abraham Najera of Burlington.
Najera also earned her high school diploma and an Associate’s degree from ACC.
The rising UNC freshman says that, while her favorite class at Graham High School was biology, her favorite experience during high school was “talking about crime documentaries and unrelated things during my public speaking class. It was a way to bond with my classmates and to have fun during class.”
Najera was active in the National Honor Society, Key Club, Animal Care Club, Book Club, and student council at Graham High School, in addition to volunteering at North Graham Elementary School. She also played on the volleyball team and served as a marshal during commencement exercises for Graham High School and ACC in 2022. Najera worked at The Root Trackside in Elon during her senior year of high school.
“I like reading books and manga,” which is a Japanese style of comic books and graphic novels, as well as painting and collecting miniature objects, Najera says.
“My advice is to never give up on your dreams and to not give up on yourself because there is always a light at the end of the tunnel,” Najera tells the newspaper. “Also, I’m so grateful for being a part of Pre-Collegiate Academy [at Graham High School] and how much the program has helped me become a better person in terms of education and confidence.”
Genesis Beltran Rodriquez, 17, who’s the daughter of Mrs. Rodriguez and Mr. Beltran of Burlington, also graduated with her high school diploma and an Associate’s degree from ACC.
Rodriguez is also heading to Chapel Hill next month to attend the state’s flagship university.
Rodriguez recalls that her favorite class at Graham High was Public Speaking, taught by Elizabeth Williams.
“One of my favorite memories that brings me the most nostalgia was as a freshman at Graham High School,” Rodriquez tells the newspaper. “My two good friends, Saira and Elaine, were one of the very first friends I made. They definitely helped my transition from middle to high school to be much more enjoyable. Thus, Saira, Elaine, and I agreed to exchange presents before Christmas break. It was just the three of us, and this heartwarming day in the library was delightful. I remember that we even decided to record our reactions for fun and look over them [afterwards]…We bonded, even more, that day because of the thoughtful presents that symbolized our everlasting friendship.”
Rodriquez was involved in a number of extracurricular activities at Graham High School, which included: participating in Key Club; playing on the volleyball and tennis teams; and participating in the National Honor Society.
“In addition, I was a part of the Elon Academy Summer residential program for the past [three] years [and participated in] the Animal Care Club and the Life Science and Technology Club at Alamance Community College,” Rodriquez explains. “I also happily volunteer at my church as a welcome greeter, church deacon, and key player in the music ministry.
“One’s IQ level does not define or determine how successful you will be,” Rodriquez adds. “I’ve learned it’s a matter of grit, vision, discipline, and work ethic that will take you far.
Remember that you only live once, so never procrastinate, or it will extinguish your drive and purpose. I owe my success and personal growth to all my teachers, mentors, family, and my personal Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Makayla Williams, 18, who’s the daughter of Carrie and Altonio Bradshaw of Graham, will be attending UNC-Chapel Hill on a Carolina Covenant scholarship.
Williams, who was one of two Graham High School students who won the Superintendent’s Award of Excellence this spring, says her favorite class in high school was her Peer Connections Group (PCG) and her most memorable experience the homecoming pep rally each fall.
In addition to the PCG, Williams was active in the student council and National Honor Society at Graham High School.
“Never give up on your dreams or settle for less,” Williams summarizes. “You must work hard to achieve your goals and to be successful.”
Read previous stories about the top 2023 graduates from other Alamance County high schools: