Prince George’s celebrates its ‘young stars,’ program highlights the top of the class

Mary Chinyere Egwin, the valedictorian at Bladensburg High School in Prince George’s County, will attend Tufts University in the fall as a Gates Millennium Scholar and wants to become an oncologist. Erick Vargas, No. 2 in Bladensburg’s senior class, is going to Columbia University on a full scholarship.

The pair were among 51 students who were honored Monday night at “Celebrating Our Young Stars,” an event held at Camelot in Upper Marlboro to spotlight the achievements of the school system’s valedictorians and salutatorians.

“We hear so much about the ills of our world and the ills of our schools, so it’s so good to celebrate our achievements,” Schools Chief Kevin M. Maxwell told the crowd of students, parents, teachers and administrators.

Maxwell later asked the students to help the school system, which is planning a branding campaign, get the message out about the academic rigor in the schools and the achievements of its students.

“I think there is a perception that we don’t have” high achievers, Maxwell said.

And yet there they were — students like Stephen T. Leslie, who earned a 4.5 at Bowie High School and will attend Bucknell University. He wants to become a biomedical engineer and pursue a career in gospel music. His first album drops next month.

And there was Asha H. Jackson, the valedictorian at Laurel High School, who earned a 4.1 and will attend Florida State University. Jackson, who plays three instruments and is considering a career as a scoring composer for movies, said the ceremony was an acknowledgment that “hard work pays off.”

School Board member Curtis Valentine, a graduate of Morehouse College and Harvard Kennedy School, told the students to continue to be creative, persistent and curious.

Northwestern Principal Edgar Batenga said he was excited to participate in the event.

“It’s nice to come to events that recognize the excellence that the school system has,” he said. “It shows off the hard work of the students, parents and faculty.”

Batenga noticed something at the event that he had already seen at his own school. Less than 15 of the honorees were male.

“I see a lot more females earning 4.0 or higher,” he said. Northwestern’s valedictorian is Christella Nguiakam Nguewa and its co-salutatorians are Claris M. Nde and Nicole Anne S. Macasa.

Amritha Jayanti, who earned a 4.4 at Eleanor Roosevelt High School and will go to the University of Maryland, College Park, said she was in shock when she learned she was her school’s valedictorian.

“At first it didn’t hit me,” Jayanti said. “It is very rewarding to know your work is recognized.”

Ovetta Wiggins writes about K-12 education.
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