May 1st is a day for high school seniors across the nation to celebrate their successes and look ahead to their future: National College Signing Day. For Sakiyah and Tatiana, high school seniors in Macon, Georgia, their motivation for success they say, “comes from their community.”
Tatiana, who cites Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson as a source of inspiration, is graduating as the valedictorian of her high school class and will major in Political Science at Howard University in the fall. She hopes to become a Senator and among her many accolades, she is a recipient of the highly selective Bill Gates Scholarship.
Sakiyah will attend Georgia Southern University and is the first person in her family to graduate high school and attend a four-year college. She is in the top 10 of her high school class academically, works more than 30 hours a week and recently was crowned prom princess.
Both girls made it clear that young people are not accepting the status quo. Instead, when they see a problem, they find a solution. Community challenges? They address them. Systemic failure? They study legislation and rewrite the system.
“In Macon, crime is very real. For people my age, you end up dead or you end up in jail,” shared Tatiana. “I joined the law academy my sophomore year of high school by force. I originally wanted to be a doctor. After taking the class I realized I was into politics, and I wanted to help my community.”
The girls reported that they believe the biggest challenge facing high school girls in their community is an inordinate amount of anxiety and stress — much of it centered on “graduating high school and doing well without a lot of support outside of school.”
While college enrollment has fallen overall since the onset of the pandemic, enrollment for young women in 2022 dropped at twice the rate of men. These statistics are alarming, particularly for young women like Tatiana and Sakiyah, for whom a college degree can be a critical tool for a successful future.
Both girls identified additional stressors during their senior year of high school and enrolled themselves in the Pace Reach Program to receive additional counseling services beyond what their mainstream school provides. Kourtney Mikell, the girls’ Pace Reach counselor, emphasized the need to understand the role mental health plays in getting girls to and through college.
“In college, I plan to be enrolled in multiple clubs and organizations like I am now,” said Tatiana, who is a member of Skills USA, DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), a student ambassador and a member of her high school’s news team. “Ms. Kourtney helped me come up with plans so that whenever I feel overwhelmed, I have a safe place and safe steps to know what to do.”
“Mental health varies. When you recognize you are not okay mentally, you have to accept it within yourself before you can get help,” shared Sakiyah. “Mrs. Kourtney has helped me be more open to things and express my feelings.”
Both girls recognize they have a significant role to play as young leaders — using their voices and talents to make a difference in their families, schools and community. More importantly, they recognize the importance of self-care and prioritizing mental health.
As for what she envisions her community’s future looking like, Tatiana said, “I will advocate for women’s rights until the day I die.”