Home   Days in El Dorado   EHS first black valedictorian and salutatorian

EHS first black valedictorian and salutatorian

Outstanding students make local history

Davis and Griffin EHS’s first black valedictorian, salutatorian
By: Tia Lyons – El Dorado News-Times
Victoria Davis, left, and Cordell Griffin, both of El Dorado High School, were honored at a reception at the Elks Club Friday evening. Davis was valedictorian and Griffin was salutatorian of this year’s graduation class at EHS.

Victoria Davis, left, and Cordell Griffin, both of El Dorado High School, were honored at a reception at the Elks Club Friday evening. Davis was valedictorian and Griffin was salutatorian of this year’s graduation class at EHS.

When Victoria Davis and Cordell Griffin walked across the field of Memorial Stadium last month to receive their high school diplomas, the pair humbly etched their place in history, becoming what are believed to be the first black valedictorian and salutatorian to graduate from El Dorado High School.
Phillip Hay, a 2013 Parkers Chapel High School senior, made a little bit of history during his own commencement ceremony on May 23.

Hay now holds the distinction as just the second African American valedictorian from his now-alma mater. The scholar athlete will attend Harvard in the fall and has signed on to play football for the Crimson.
The hard work and achievements of the three Union County grads has not gone unnoticed.
Buzz on social media websites, in local churches, and other places, began weeks ago about the prospect of two African American students filling the top slots in a class of nearly 300 at EHS.
Once the word became official, talk circulated about the need for some type of congratulatory community event to recognize them.
Enter the El Dorado-Union County chapter of the NAACP and Gusher ELKS Lodge No. 560, both staunch proponents of education and both of whom hold regular fundraisers for scholarships that are awarded annually to African American students in El Dorado and Union County.
The organizations partnered to host a reception that was held Friday at the ELKS Lodge, 1525 E. 19th.
The event drew an impressive turnout, and the prospective college students each received attractive plaques that resembled a stack of books with a mortarboard and tassel.
Due to a scheduling conflict, Hay, who shared co-valedictorian honors with classmate Kirstin Bussey, was unable to attend, and his mother, Georgia, accepted his award in his stead.
The crowd was in for a pleasant surprise as EHS guidance counselor Vince Dawson also received an award for his work with and dedication to students at EHS.
Davis and Griffin credited Dawson, who was not their guidance counselor, for pushing them to reach their highest academic potential during their careers at EHS.
LaQuita Rainey of the NAACP said organizers of the reception felt it was important to recognize Dawson as well Friday.
Dawson thought he had been invited to the event to address the audience and honorees, but soon learned that he was an honoree himself.
“It was a pure shock to him. A pure shock. And what got me was that he said he had never received an award in his life. So I told him, ‘You deserve that and so much more, and now you can’t say you’ve never received an award,’” Rainey said.
“Mr. Dawson has seen a lot of kids come and go at EHS. You know he’s there, but he’s so quiet spoken, you never hear too much about Mr. Dawson,” she continued. “But he makes a difference in these kids’ lives. It doesn’t matter if they’re black or white, he’s just out there trying to do his part to make a difference in their lives.”
Davis and Griffin’s ranks in EHS’ 2013 graduating class take on an added significance that harks back to another turning point in El Dorado’s history.
From the time they first heard the news that EHS would churn out a black valedictorian and salutatorian in the same graduating class, former students of Washington High School, near and far, have been brimming with pride and anticipation.
The all-black high school closed when El Dorado schools integrated in 1969, taking with it the last black valedictorian and salutatorian to graduate from high school in the city — that is, until May 21.
David Ross, from the WHS Class of 1957, said Davis and Griffin have now left their own indelible legacy.
Added Ida Grace, WHS Class of 1954, “This is such an enlightening event to know that our students are still progressing and have a desire to pursue such an educational milestone.”
Athaline Moore, 1964 WHS graduate and organizer of El Dorado Days, the biennial homecoming event that started in 1976 among former El Dorado residents in California — many of them WHS graduates — also offered her congratulations, saying that Davis and Griffin’s accomplishments are reminiscent of her old high school.
Bob Watson, superintendent of the El Dorado School District, has worked in the district in a number of capacities for more than 30 years and said he does not remember there ever being a black valedictorian or salutatorian for EHS.
“I really have to do this on recall. We keep the lists (of EHS valedictorians and salutatorians), but we don’t put if they’re black or white (or Hispanic),” Watson said.
•   •   •
Davis said she was 9 years old when she first got any notion of being valedictorian of EHS.
A friend’s parents told her then that she would be EHS’ top ranked graduate when the time came, but Davis said she dismissed the comment, thinking she wasn’t smart enough for such a distinction.
She said the idea became more conceivable to her when she was in the ninth grade and learned she was the highest-ranked student in her class.
It was then that Davis said she decided to go for it.
She was notified that she had landed the top spot several days before EHS’ commencement ceremony on May 21, but the gravity of it all didn’t sink in until she gave her graduation speech.
“I couldn’t believe it. It didn’t seem real,” she said, astonishment permeating her voice.
Admittedly quiet, Davis’ academic prowess has always spoken loudly and clearly for her.
An honor student from the day she entered the El Dorado public school system, Davis said she realized early on that high educational achievement was the ticket to a prosperous and fulfilling life.
“I just knew I had to do that in order to be successful. I didn’t want to be stuck in a bad situation later on in life,” she said.
Griffin, who said it was an honor to stand alongside Davis as salutatorian, made similar statements about his own motivation to perform well in school.
When asked if had always been an honor student, Griffin answered politely and without hesitation, “Yes, ma’am, from kindergarten all the way up to now.”
He said he found out he was in the running for salutatorian during his junior year. His number-two class ranking remained in the back of his mind, serving as an incentive until he received official word from his guidance counselor Ann Hayes.
Griffin said his family — particularly his mother, Angela Jones, aunt, Katherine Land and late grandmother, Birdie Land — were major influences in his desire to maintain good grades.
“I was raised by my grandmother until she passed, and she was always helpful with my schoolwork, and my auntie and my mom were always making sure that I stayed in my books and that I knew that was the most important thing,” he explained.
Like Griffin, Davis said her family, mother Carolyn and big sister Quita Harris, played a key role in her academic success.
Both teens also cited several teachers and school faculty members as supporters, including Hayes, who helped them with class schedules and college applications.
And the cultural and historical magnitude of the moment has not escaped them, they noted.
Davis and Griffin said the cheers they have received from the black community here has been overwhelming, with Davis first catching wind of it the day of her graduation ceremony.
“I didn’t know about it until I looked on Facebook and saw my face all over my timeline,” she said. “I felt so honored. I could not believe people were talking about me so much.”
Griffin said he has received similar feedback and was especially touched that so much of it came from people who did not know him personally.
He also said he is glad his accomplishments defy negative stereotypes that are often heaped upon black students, and he hopes to serve as a role model for students to aim higher when it comes to their schooling.
Both Davis and Griffin said they considered it a blessing to have been the ones to have blazed such a historical trail for the students who will come after them at EHS.
They offered sage advice that extends well beyond their years.
“Always believe in yourself and work hard in class, at everything,” said Griffin. “Don’t relax or be lazy because someone is always trying to be better than you.”
Davis urged students to follow their instincts and remain true to themselves, an invaluable lesson she learned when trying to make friends.
Davis said she thought she had to downplay her intelligence to fit in with some of her peers.
“Be true to yourself. If you try to hide who are, you might miss out on something great. If I had kept doing that, I wouldn’t have been valedictorian,” she advised.
A love of science and an interest in hormones and how they affect the body has pointed Davis toward endocrinology.
She said she will study biology in the fall at Arkansas State University and plans to move on to medical school en route to becoming an endocrinologist.
Griffin said a class he took during his senior year deepened a budding interest in accounting.
With a teacher who made learning more about the subject enjoyable and with a head for figures, Griffin said the class gave him his first glimpse into the ins and outs of the profession and how an accountant works.
He plans to major in accounting at Arkansas’ flagship university in Fayetteville and continue his education with a master’s degree to become a certified public accountant.
Law school is also a future consideration, he said, adding that he is interested in becoming a tax attorney.
Griffin and Davis have mirroring expectations for college, with both saying they are looking forward to meeting new friends, discovering new cultural experiences and establishing their own identities.
Griffin said he is also ready to dive into a “real world” experience to test his decision-making skills as an adult, and Davis said she is looking forward to taking control of her education by setting her own class schedule and exploring her interests.
That all lies ahead for them in the fall, but for now, Griffin and Davis are trying to soak in all of the accolades that are still coming their way at the apex of their grade school years.
(Former News-Times reporter Zach Killian contributed to this story.)

Published: 06/22/2013

Comments are closed.