Personality: Amia Aaryn Graham
5/28/2020, 6 p.m.
Amia A. Graham, a senior at Thomas Jefferson High School, has the distinction of graduating as the top student in Richmond Public Schools with a 4.9677 GPA.
“I knew I was smart, but I didn’t think I was that smart,” Amia says with a laugh. “I am shocked to receive Thomas Jefferson’s and Richmond Public School’s highest academic honor.”
Amia, 18, is the eldest daughter of Aaron and Tomeka Graham, who were as thrilled as she was for this outstanding achievement after so many years of hard work.
“My parents called all of our relatives and told them,” Amia says. “They were very excited.”
With her top grades and activities, Amia was wooed by colleges and universities from around the country with scholarship offers totaling more than $500,000. She selected the University of Virginia, where she plans to start this fall on a full scholarship. Her goal is to become a certified nurse midwife and nurse practitioner.
“The scholarship offers showed me that 13 years of hard work paid off financially and figuratively,” Amia says. “My parents were really happy because I need scholarships.”
Amia not only had a rigorous academic schedule, but kept an active extracurricular schedule during her high school years. Before the coronavirus closed down schools across the state, she played the tenor saxophone in the Vikings marching band and orchestra. She also was active with Thomas Jefferson High’s Robotics and Key clubs and volunteered at the Veterans Care Center in South Richmond with her mother.
Because of COVID-19, Amia and other students across the city, state and the nation will not have a traditional graduation ceremony. However, in Richmond, seniors will have the opportunity to enjoy a bit of pomp and circumstance in a new two-pronged approach to commencement announced last week by Richmond Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras. Students will have both virtual and in-person ceremonies. The in-person ceremonies, to be held the week of June 22, will allow graduates to walk across a stage on the school’s football field or in the gymnasium during a timed exercise to allow for social distancing. Only three members of a graduate’s family can attend.
Amia says she has mixed feelings about this year’s commencement. She will miss the big ceremony with all of her Thomas Jefferson classmates and their families gathered for a mass ceremony. She was to be one of the speakers. She wanted to talk about the experiences they have had as the Class of 2020. She wanted to spotlight homecoming and Senior Installation, a program each high school has at the beginning of the year to honor the senior class. She also wanted to publicly thank her classmates and all who have supported her.
“Having my photo and being part of a valedictorian-salutatorian video posted on the school district’s website makes me feel special,” she says.
“On the other hand, I really, really wanted to walk across that stage and get my diploma and give my speech to my classmates. That was to be the last hurrah for my friends and me.”
She says she’s grateful for the alternative graduation because “a lot of people don’t get to celebrate. All three years our class had fun and we got our work done.”
This time, Amia says, has been unforgettable, life-changing, character-building and memorable.
Her message to inspire fellow graduates of the Class of 2020?
“Keep your head up. Keep striving to do your very best. We know perseverance. We are the most resilient class, so keep pushing.”
Meet Richmond Public Schools’ top valedictorian and this week’s Personality, Amia A. Graham:
Latest honor: Earning the super distinction of being No. 1 among all 2020 honor graduates for Richmond Public Schools.
High school: Thomas Jefferson High School.
Size of your senior class: 103 students.
Extracurricular activities: Marching band, Robotics, Key Club, Future Business Leaders of America, Recycling Club, Science Club and National Honor Society.
Leadership roles: Drum Major/Section Leader, Marketing and Fundraising Team Lead, President, Treasurer, Participant, Captain.
Parents’ names and occupations: Tomeka Graham, a vol- untary services specialist, and Aaron Graham, a chef.
Sibling: Sister, DeJia Graham, 16.
Date and place of birth: Nov. 28 in Richmond.
Current residence: Richmond.
Reaction to valedictorian honor: Shocked.
Family’s reaction: Proud.
Main point I will make in valedictory address: Perseverance and resilience are the keys to success.
Universities that made scholarship offers with amounts: Too many to list.
Total amount: More than $550,000.
The university I selected and why: University of Virginia. I fell in love with their nursing program.
How attitude figures in scoring high: You have to believe that you can achieve the goal you set for yourself or you will never succeed.
What motivates me to study:Making myself and others proud of my academic accomplishments.
How much time I devoted to study: An inconceivable amount.
What really makes me smart: I ask for help at school when I need it, especially if I am having trouble understanding a concept.
A good teacher is: Patient and loves their job.
Career goal: Becoming a certified nurse midwife, a nurse practitioner and opening my own birthing center.
Ultimate ambition: To be successful and happy with my life.
The secret to earning “A’s”: Asking for help when you need it and putting in the time and effort of studying.
Biggest adjustments I’ve made during COVID-19: Scheduling my days to be productive.
Silver lining of this pandemic for you: I am learning more about myself because I have no obligations to anyone else anymore.
Most unforgettable experience during high school: Leading the marching band in chants during football games.
Teacher who influenced me the most: Several of my teachers have greatly impacted my life and I cannot think of just one. They each spent time getting to know me not just as a student but as a person as well and wanted the best for me.
Hobbies: Reading, listening to music, watching movies, practicing my instruments and word searches.
A perfect day for me: Sitting in my living room with my best friend watching movies, talking and just having fun together.
A quote that I am inspired by: “The carousel never stops turning” — Dr. Ellis Grey, a character on the television show, “Grey’s Anatomy”
Best late-night snack: Gala apple.
Three words that best describe me: Ambitious, responsible and hard-working.
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Binge-watching “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Dream- girls” over and over again.
The person who influenced me the most: My parents. They have taught me everything I know about being a good person and working hard to get what I want.
What I would like to change in the world: I would like to change a lot of things in the world, but two of my biggest passions are civil rights and health care. I believe that everyone should be treated equally regardless of outside factors, such as race, gender or age. Also, health care is a human right and people shouldn’t have to worry about going bankrupt if they get sick.
What I would like to change in my community: I would like to change my community’s accessibility to health care. Even when we do get health care, paying for it is always a burden and hardship.
Outlook for the future: Optimistic. I see a future where people are more loving and caring toward their fellow humans than before and value the ability to be in their presence.
Kindergarten taught me: To love learning and exploring new things.
The book that influenced me the most: “Hop on Pop” by Dr. Seuss because it was the first book I ever read by myself and it kick-started my love for reading.
What I’m reading now: “Becoming” by Michelle Obama.
My next goal: Graduating from college with honors.