This high school senior has raked in almost a half of a million dollars in scholarships as she gears up to start college this fall – and Ashanti Palmer is no ordinary schooler.  She is solidly committed, and since Pre-K, the Mount Vernon, New York native has not missed a single day of school.  This translates to more than 2,500 days in the classroom for this super-achiever who stays focused on her path to a career in medicine and bio-technology.

The high school senior graduated at the top of her class from Nellie A. Thornton High School and the Performing & Visual Arts Magnet Program in Mount Vernon, and will continue her studies this at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in upstate New York.  Palmer, who is the valedictorian of her graduating class, delivered a message of hope and a firm challenge to her fellow graduates during their recent virtual graduation. 

Begin at 42:58 for Ashanti Palmer’s Valedictorian Speech

“Do not set limits on yourself by comparing yourself with others … but do that which will promote maturity and success in all aspects of your life,” she shared in her message.  Ms. Palmer encouraged her colleagues to focus on a growth mindset and not a fixed mindset, and asked that they break through barriers to achieve success pursuing their own unique path in life.

Her message was strong and took root among the more than 280 young people who graduated with her in Mount Vernon – a small city just north of New York City which boasts natives like Denzil Washington, Ossie Davis and Malcolm X.  More than 93% of the students graduated high school this year, staying on point despite the unfortunate interruption brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

Principal Dr. Evelyn Collins told the graduates that they were making history among the millions graduating in the middle of a pandemic.  “We all know how difficult the last 4 months have been, yet you have persevered … you moved forward, you stayed on point.”

Ashanti Palmer and her fellow graduates, like most students in America, had to transition to digital learning since mid-March.  This, however, was a source of motivation and resilience for these young people who were among the first to experience drive-in graduation in a world of social distancing.  In the drive-in processional, students stopped to receive a gift, their diploma jacket, and a professional photograph.

Palmer is a high achiever and will pursue her first degree in biomedical engineering and has aspirations to start her own research company aimed at empowering women of color and to challenge young people to pursue education and careers in science, technology and engineering.

“Being valedictorian feels good because it shows that my hard work is paying off.  My efforts are being celebrated in a big way and showing up to school every day was important,” shared Palmer, who credited her strong family support and her sense of presence for her historic accomplishments.  “In terms of my perfect attendance, it wasn’t something I sought out.  I just needed to be present and I knew that showing up was important, and missing even one day can set you back,” she explained. In his speech, School Superintendent Dr. Kenneth Hamilton called on the graduates to be innovators.  “Let this be the class that leads the way to figure out a solution to this devastating disease that has tumbled us … let this be the generation that finally brings social justice and equality to the masses.