Duke University’s Student of the Month: School comes first for Hillside senior

Nov. 18, 2013 @ 10:38 AM

Hillside High School senior Delecia Utley should probably ask for a pair of roller skates for Christmas.

She’s a busy person. Constantly on the go.
Utley’s on the Hornets softball team, a majorette in the band, a cheerleader, a dancer with Nina’s School of Dance and treasurer of the school’s Ladies of Kappa League chapter.
In January, Utley, 17, will compete in the Distinguished Young Women of North Carolina Program (formally America’s Junior Miss program) in Greensboro.
Did we mention that she’s a volunteer at Brown’s Day Care Center, a 5-star child-care center she was enrolled in from ages 2-5?
She also volunteers at the Durham’s Meals on Wheels Program, helping to provide meals to the city’s elderly citizens.
And all the while, Utley has maintained a 4.99 GPA enrolled in Hillside’s rigorous International Baccalaureate Program, No. 2 in her class.
“I still don’t know,” Utley said when asked how she manages it all.  
She credits her mother, Sharon Lawson, with helping to keep her on track and motivated.
But Lawson said her daughter manages her time well and is self-motivated.
“She just strives to be the very best that she can be,” Lawson said. “She doesn’t like to settle for less.”
With her sights set on Howard University in Washington, D.C., in the fall, Utley is torn between pursuit of a career in medicine or one as researcher.
“I’m stuck between research and something in the medical field,” said Utley, who plans to pursue a degree in biology. “I don’t know if I want to help people one-on one, give them my services through medicine, or through research to help better the science of medicine.”
Utley got the research bug over the summer at N.C. Central University working in a lab with Antonio Baines, an associate professor in the Department of Biology, who is researching treatments for pancreatic cancer.
“It opened my eyes to the possibility of research [as a career],” Utley said. “I’m still not sure.”
Like many students who attend Hillside, Utley is aware of the negative perception some people in the community have about the school and its students.
“They really don’t know unless they attend Hillside,” Utley said. “They shouldn’t be too quick to pass a judgment until they’ve experienced it themselves.”
Lawson, a 1985 graduate of Hillside, agreed with her daughter’s assessment.
“They were doing great things then [in 1985] and they’re still doing great things,” Lawson said.  
With all that she has going on, it’s hard to believe it, but Utley has a boyfriend, Alex Woods, also a senior at Hillside.
Lawson joked that because of her busy schedule, Utley only has time to spend with Woods on holidays.
“Holidays like today,” Lawson said referring to Veterans Day. “He’s a holiday boyfriend. We squeeze him in on holidays.”
In spite of her achievements, Woods said Utley has on occasion doubted her academic abilities.
“But when it came down to it, she noticed that she did have a pretty good GPA,” Woods said. “She also has great time management and she does what she has to do before she comes out to do other things.”
Woods is considering attending Hampton University next fall, noting that Utley helps to keep him motivated and focused on academics.
Utley said remaining focused is the key.
She said it’s the advice she would give anyone striving to achieve academically and to become a better person.
“You have to stay focused in school first, and have good time management skills” Utley said. “Community service is something that will make you better. So, finding something that you’re passionate about is always a good thing and to stick with it.”  


Duke University and its Office of Durham and Regional Affairs are proud to sponsor Duke University’s Durham Student of the Month. The Office of Durham and Regional Affairs strives to broaden and strengthen engagement with Durham and the Research Triangle region. Visit community.duke.edu to learn more about the office’s educational outreach, neighborhood quality of life and economic development initiatives.


Age: 17

GPA: 4.99
School: Hillside High School
School Activities: Softball, majorette, cheerleader, treasurer of the school’s Ladies of Kappa League chapter.
Favorite Book: “Their Eyes Were Watching God”
Favorite Movies: “42”
Favorite Music: R&B