The Class of 2020 has the world’s attention because of what they missed due to the COVID19 Pandemic. However, one young lady is choosing not to focus on what could have been, rather, what will be.
Gordon G. Garrett Academy of Technology’s valedictorian, Keyonne McKnight is headed to the University of South Carolina to study Biological Sciences and then to the University of Georgia to study veterinary medicine. She has plans to open a non-profit veterinary clinic. She and her fellow classmates were celebrated in a virtual graduation ceremony in June and will again be recognized at an in-person diploma ceremony on Friday, July 3, 2020.
McKnight looks excitedly towards the future because it is most certainly bright. However, along with her 62 fellow graduates, she is also basking in pride for what the Class of 2020 has accomplished. It is all bittersweet, though. Garrett will officially close its doors for good this month. This means that the Class of 2020 will be the school’s final graduating class, and McKnight will be the school’s very last valedictorian. She will perpetually hold a place in history.
Principal Dale Metzger’s theme for the Class of 2020 was “Finish Strong.” That they did – with a 96 percent graduation rate. “Keyonne is an inspiring young lady,” said Metzger. “She is a quiet leader and always there to lend a hand with service projects or organize one and her academics are just stellar.”
Due to the school being in its final year, sports activities were phased out. So the students immersed themselves in extra-curricular activities. McKnight worked in the library, was a member of the Students in Action Club, and served on student government. This type of participation allowed the entire senior class to prevail and preserve their class spirit.
“Our principal held pep rallies to keep the school spirit up and I occupied myself with different aspects of the school,” said McKnight.
Top of the Class
McKnight didn’t begin pursuing the distinction of valedictorian until her sophomore year. At the end of her freshman year, the names of the top students were announced. She was not named as the student with the highest grade point average and she wondered how this could be.
As it turned out, it was an error and she had in fact earned the top spot. Her competitive nature kicked in the harder work began. However, along the way, she was terrified. Speaking in front of an audience and having to give the obligatory valedictorian speech was not something she would look forward to should she earn the honor.
“I have always challenged myself to do my best because I don’t want to fail myself or anyone else,” said McKnight. “Once I realized that I had earned it, I wanted to keep my spot at the top of the class.” McKnight put in the hard work, and she knew in the back of her mind she would be named valedictorian. She said she kept working harder than ever, though, just in case.
“The honor, too, goes to her parents, faculty and staff along the way who recognized her potential early on,” said Metzger. “They led her out of her comfort zone so that she could rise up and be the leader we needed at our school.” Then the COVID19 pandemic befell the world. This meant a sudden switch to virtual learning and no more in person afterschool club meetings.
The leader in McKnight kicked into high gear. She was able to motivate her classmates by continuing to lead by example. “I am heavily driven by my peers and classmates,” said McKnight. “I love them dearly and care so much.” McKnight said she had to intentionally balance the fact that this would be the last year of the school with the fact that she was graduating. “We all had to stay positive and finish strong,” said McKnight. “We just kept telling ourselves ‘we’re finally seniors’ and we kept each other’s spirits up by looking at it that way.” That kind of support helped McKnight as well. “I am driven by others being proud of me and caring for me,” said McKnight.
That transcends into her own personality and shows in her empathy toward animals. She never had a pet until recently, but that didn’t stop her from being drawn to them. “I love people but I am terrified of people at the same time,” said McKnight. “I click with animals and love them so much. I want to help them because they can’t help themselves.”
McKnight added that anything is possible with care and time as long as one is doing their best. Rozita Wylder taught McKnight Honors English 4 and inducted her into the National Honor Society. “She has a big heart and cares for others,” said Wylder. “She was always reserved and desired academic excellence. She came to me once to find out about her grades and I saw a fight in her to take action if need be. I urged her to share that fire with others.”
Wylder explained that she nudged McKnight out of her comfort zone. “I just told her, ‘there’s something in you and the world needs to know it’.” McKnight made many memories on the Garrett campus dating back to when she was a three year-old in the child development program. She’s finishing where she started, and for that, she could not be more proud. “I represent an entire class that finished strong,” said McKnight “I am so proud of our class. We knew we were the best and our principal worked so hard to help ensure that.” As far as being the final valedictorian of the school, she said, “I hope I did them proud and that people look back and say, ‘she did great’.”
Wylder said that McKnight made teaching easy. “She brought the gift of a desire to learn and excel to my classroom,” said Wylder. “She represents what I would hope for in every student. She represents what can be done.” Metzger described her as the pinnacle of what anyone would want in a child. “She represents a senior class that finished strong and delivered on the hope I had,” Metzger said. “Their devotion and positivity will serve them well in life.”
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