The rite of passage known as high school graduation signals success, with each year’s observation embraced with a sense of survival. For all of the Class of 2020 high school graduates, the global pandemic that turned much of the academic year into a life-threatening obstacle course added an unforeseen element of realism.

Among the graduates are those lauded as standouts and earners of the coveted title of valedictorian by virtue of achieving the highest grade point average among their peers.

Shelby County Schools (SCS) honored 31 valedictorians in the just completed school year. None got to deliver the customary address in a graduation ceremony packed with fellow graduates, family, friends and supporters.

Seeking to provide a platform for the best of the best to extend words of inspiration, SCS afforded each an opportunity to share a message from an influencer, inspiring personality.

From that valedictorian platform, The New Tri-State Defender culled these words of inspiration:


Elaine Moore

Craigmont High School

“It will be over soon.”

– Unknown

Destinee Taylor

Kirby High School

“If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk, then crawl. But whatever you do, you have to keep moving forward.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Jaeda Taylor

Kingsbury High School

“It’s just a bad day, not a bad life.”

– Mary Engelbreit

Damia Lewis

Douglass High School

“Opportunity isn’t given, it’s created.”

– Samuel L. Jackson

Chantz Foster

Ridgeway High School

“Nothing is impossible. The word, itself, says ‘I’m possible.”

– Audrey Hepburn

Autumn Jamison

Overton High School

“Don’t fear failure. Fear the absence of progress.

– Unknown

Chloe Baker

Germantown High School

“Nothing comes of nothing.”

– William Shakespeare

Alexis Pelliccioti

Central High School

“My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.”

– Maya Angelou

Steven Go

Cordova High School

“There is no substitute for hard work.”

– Thomas Edison

Quantia Anderson

Avon Lenox High School

“Empower yourself with a good education. Then, get out there and use that education to build a country worthy of your boundless promise.”

– Michelle Obama

Allen Wu

White Station High School

“The best way to predict the future is to invent it.”

– Steve Jobs

Marissa Ingram

Whitehaven High School

“Success means doing the best we can with what we have. Success is the doing, not the getting: in the trying, not the triumph.”

– Zig Zigler

Quinton Ray II

Raleigh Egypt High School

“I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.”

– Angela Davis

Amelia Simpson

Bolton High School

“Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

– Malcolm X

Angelique Hamilton

Trezevant High School

“Work hard in silence. Let the success be your noise.”

– Frank Ocean

Cornelius Meeks

Mitchell High School

“You were born to win, but to be a winner, you must plan to win, and expect to win.”

– Hilary Hinton (Zig Ziglar)

 Nyeisha Jordan

Northwest Prep Academy

“Challenges are what make life interesting, and overcoming them is what makes life meaningful.”

– Joseph J. Marine

Natalya Johnson

Hollis F. Price High School

“Look closely at the present you are constructing; it should look like the future you are building.”

– Alice Walker

Carly Robinson

Middle College High School

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

– Oprah Winfrey

Tyler Finley

East High School

“My whole life, I’ve been looking to be a part of something special, to feel special, but the truth is that I am special.”

– Rachel Barry

Kayla Chavis

Memphis Virtual School

“Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”

– Malcolm X

Ashley Elizonda

Wooddale High School

“It doesn’t matter where you are coming from. All that matters is where you are going.”

– Brian Tracy

Juan Espino

Sheffield High School

“I have not special talent. I am passionately curious.”

– Albert Einstein

Jhoana Hernandez

Southwind High School

“Every day when I wake up, the goal is to be better than I was yesterday. Whether it’s a better daughter, sister, friend, student, I will strive to be better.”

– Ms. Ivy

Irone Winsley

Westwood High School

“No matter how brilliant you think you are, you can never make a difference alone.”

– L. Lawliet

Joseph Zeron

Oakhaven High School

“Don’t be ashamed of failing; be ashamed of giving up.”

– Ramadan Kareem

Le’Jerria Richardson

Manassas High School

“Pain is temporary. It may last for a minute, or an hour, or a day, or even a year. But eventually, it will subside. And something else takes its place. If I quit, however, it will last forever.”

– Eric Thomas

Torian Carwell

Booker T. Washington High School

“So many of our dreams first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and then we summon the will.”

– Christopher Reeves

Myah Anderson

Hamilton High School

“Focus on the possibility for success, not on the potential for failure.”

– Napolean Hill

Camille Taylor

Melrose High School

“You will face many defeats in life, but never let yourself be defeated.”

– Maya Angelou

Tarrell Charles

Melrose High School

“Man’s greatness comes in his ability to do and the proper application of his powers to things needed to be done.”

– Frederick Douglass

Shelby County Schools Salutatorians also have their say