Ashley Hagans is the top graduate at Rocky Mount Senior High this year and the first African-American to hold the title at the school.
"That was a surprise for me to hear because our school is predominantly black and has been for quite some time, so that was a surprise to me, but then I'm like, 'Wow,'" she said.
Like every valedictorian, she worked hard to make it -- taking advanced courses, cheering the team's athletes and joining a number of school clubs. Her teachers said earning the title was not an obsession.
"Even though she knew was No. 1 going into the year, she never came to my office constantly, asking 'Am I No. 1?'" counselor Aletha Hudson said.
"She's a great student, always smiling. We're happy to have her as the No. 1 student at Rocky Mount Senior High this year," assistant principal Beatrice Carroll said.
As Hagans prepares to deliver her valedictorian address Thursday, she has one more reason to savor her moment in history. It is also her 18th birthday. Hagans said she will not make race a big part of her speech, but she hopes black children will learn from her hard work.
"It's an honor, and I feel like people look up to me and say now I see Ashley. She is a valedictorian. That's something that is not impossible," she said.
Hagans said the key to success is leaning on those who can help, while being able to stand on your own.
Even though Hagans is laid back about being the school's first African-American valedictorian, her father is more than pleased about her accomplishment. She said he has been calling everyone he can think of to tell them about it.
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