East Chapel Hill scholars more than straight-A transcripts

Jun. 08, 2013 @ 05:14 PM

Out of East Chapel Hill High’s lineup of 22 valedictorians and principal picks, there was a senior recovering from a traumatic brain injury. Another urged families to save arts programs in schools. A third admitted to the entire crowd in UNC Chapel Hill’s Smith Center that she was undocumented, but proud to be an American citizen.

Jeimy Salazar Martinez, who only told her best friends this year that she is undocumented, said she doesn’t want the undocumented status to define who she is. She said she had to keep smiling during her high school years, even as her older brother was deported.

During her graduation day speech, she spoke to her parents in Spanish.

“Pops, although I never admit it, you’re always right.”

“Mom, don’t worry, I’ll always come back for your amazing enchiladas.”

Martinez said she has come to embrace who she is. She’s an American citizen, a high school graduate, a scholarship recipient and future nurse.

“Don’t let other people decide your future,” she said.

About 350 students graduated from East Chapel Hill High School Saturday morning.

Nineteen valedictorians each took a turn to deliver their own unique speech, from quoting Taylor Swift lyrics to cracking open a fortune cookie. The cookie read, “Carve your name on your heart and not in marble.”

Nathan Cho talked about the guidance and life lessons he’s received from his parents over the past four years.

“That’s probably more important than any homework help or lunches that you ever made me,” Cho said.

Jeremy Fox received thunderous applause after saying he was standing on stage because he made straight A’s for four years, but that didn’t define him. His transcript is “just a piece of paper,” he said.

He said he loves to write, hike in the woods and would do anything to help a friend. He gave recognition to East Chapel Hill students who have tutored refugee children, regularly volunteered to feed the hungry and gave other classmates advice.

“Let’s focus on what really matters, friends and family, and doing good instead of well,” Fox said.