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Syracuse Teen Makes History As The First Black, Female Valedictorian In Her School’s District’s 173-Year-History

Syracuse Teen Makes History As The First Black, Female Valedictorian In Her School’s District’s 173-Year-History

She's making her mark!

A Syracuse, New York teen, made history as the first Black, female valedictorian in her school district's 173-year-history. 

Toryana Jackson attended Henninger High School in Syracuse, New York. During her time at school, Jackson was very active, participating in cross country and track for all four years and becoming a member of the Henninger band where she played the flute. In addition to her extracurricular activities, Jackson made sure to stay on top of her studies academically while also making time to participate in Community-Wide Dialogue, a group that helped her learn more about social issues. 

Like many seniors, Jackson was more focused on graduating and preparing for college, especially with the coronavirus pandemic throwing a wrench in her senior year. It wasn't until she found out that she would be her class valedictorian, graduating with a 4.0 GPA, that she discovered just how historic the honor would be. 

"I didn't realize it until after I became valedictorian. My parents had Henninger do some research into their history and the Syracuse City School District's history, and they told us that there have been no other Black valedictorians in Henninger's high school's history," Jackson told Because Of Them We Can.

Not only did Jackson make history as the first Black valedictorian in her high school's 56-year-history, but she was also the first Black valedictorian in the school district's 173-year-history!

"It was surprising. I honestly didn't know that there [hadn't] been any African American valedictorians in the past. So it was a shock to all of us...I actually got letters from an elementary school, and some third graders wrote letters about me, saying they want to be just like me when they grow up. So it's just inspirational," Jackson told Spectrum Local News reporters. 

She's since received a proclamation from New York State Senator Rachel May, and an electronic billboard highlighting her achievements has gone up in the city through community fundraising efforts. Her father, Charles "C-Jack" Jackson, said he and his wife couldn't be more proud.

Photo Courtesy of Charles Jackson

"I'm super excited about my Princess! My Queen & I have always taught her - and her brothers - to shoot for the stars and beyond! There is nothing they cannot do, especially if they keep God first in their lives. We are thrilled that the community has honored my Princess…[and] we are grateful to everyone that gave toward this special [billboard] project honoring [Toryana]," Charles said. 

Jackson has already received a full scholarship to Wellesley College, where she will be pursuing a career in journalism in the fall. She is now the second generation in her family to get the scholarship and pursue a journalism degree, her father being the first.

During her valedictorian speech, Jackson encouraged her peers to use their gifts wisely. She hopes her story inspires other Black girls to believe in their dreams.

"I would just like to encourage younger Black girls [and let them know] that they can achieve anything as long as they put the work into it and are passionate about what they want," said Jackson.

Congratulations, Toryana!

Photo Courtesy of Charles Jackson