Commencement ceremonies are about to begin, and Knox County Schools is celebrating outstanding students in the Class of 2023. For a full list of this year’s valedictorians, salutatorians, and military commitments, visit knoxschools.org/seniors.
When Angel Hellen learned she was the Career Magnet Academy co-valedictorian, she was shocked.
“It’s not something that I had my eye on, and it’s good to see that sometimes you don’t have to plan for things like this,” the senior said. “You just do the work and that will get you there.”
Hellen originally planned to study nursing, but finishing at the top of her class gave her the confidence to chase a different dream. She is now hoping to pursue a pre-med track at Howard University in Washington, D.C., which is among the country’s most prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
As a first-generation American, her dream to attend Howard is personal.
“Coming to America, I never saw anyone like me. When I came here, I felt super-alone,” she said. “From that experience, I’ve always wanted to go to a historically Black college, just so I can see a different side of things. I just want to see myself in a different environment and see what that would foster out of me.”
Hellen was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo during the Congolese Civil War. After her father died as a result of the violence, Hellen, her mother, and her sisters fled the country to Uganda. She was only four.
Living as refugees in Uganda, her family waited for six years to be granted entrance to the United States as asylum-seekers.
Now in the United States for almost a decade, and after putting in years of work to excel academically, Hellen is hoping to earn enough scholarship support to attend Howard, where she has been accepted for enrollment. But whatever happens, she remains positive.
“Even if I don’t go, just knowing that I had the chance to go is just like, ‘I’ve really set myself up to go to this school,’” she said. “Maybe not financially, but academically, I’ve done everything that I could to put myself in the best position at one of the best schools ever.”
She says she has her support system to thank for her success.
“For me, my whole journey from coming to America to this point, I just look back and see a group of people that have been there for me,” Hellen said.