Graduation season is right around the corner and high school seniors are getting ready to begin a new chapter of their lives. For Janise Duckworth, a senior at Harlan High School, 9652 S. Michigan Ave. in Roseland, mixed emotions swell up when thinking about college.
“I feel anxious but I think I am ready to be on my own a little bit,” Duckworth said, who will be attending Harris Stowe State University, a Historically Black College in St. Louis.
Duckworth is one of three high-achieving students at Harlan High School who are Principal Scholars which recognize students who are in the top 10 of their class in the entire high school.
Along with Malone Smith and Keyuana Williams, the students have demonstrated excellence in academics, said Principal Ramona Colette Outlaw. But it’s more than just that.
“It’s about attendance, behavior and being leaders for their fellow students,” Outlaw said.
These student leaders have excelled in their school community and beyond, and their academic and extracurricular activities have prepared them for the future, Malone and Duckworth said.
Duckworth, who is from Roseland, is president of Harlan’s chapter of the National Honor Society and was a participant in the Future Leaders of Chicago Program at the University of Chicago, where she collaborated with other students to develop solutions to the problems facing their communities.
Through the leadership program she said she took away a better understanding of the incarceration system and the perception of people in jail or prison. Visiting Cook County Jail and speaking with those behind bars was a touchy subject, she said, but one that invigorated her passion for helping people, especially those wrongfully convicted.
“It made me feel like these people got their life taken away from them and now they are stuck in jail,” she said. “Don’t see people on the inside of jail as a different person or like an alien.”
She wants to study acoustical engineering with a hope of one day having her own music studio. But also has an interest in business and wants to either double major or get a minor in entrepreneurship. The Future Leaders program showed her the importance of social justice practice and she hopes she can combine that into her career.
Williams is also headed to Harris Stowe State University and has been the president of the school’s Senior Advisory Council this year, where she works with the principal directly to solve problems facing the school and its students.
She received a college scholarship from the TJX Young Business Instituteafter completing a 12-week career development workshop. She plans to study either business or fashion merchandising.
Smith plans to study engineering and said he is anxious for college, but ready for a change of pace. He also stands out because of his artistic and robotic interests that began at Harlan High School. After a teacher introduced him to robotics, Outlaw enrolled him in a monthly robotics class as part of a pre-engineering early involvement program with Northrop Grumman. He will attend the University of Illinois Springfield in the fall and wants to pursue a career in cyber security.
He said his high school teachers have aptly prepared him for college and what to do to excel in his major.
“My teachers taught me about certain loans, FAFSA, and classes I should attend for my major and to understand my college better,” Smith said, a King Drive native.
He is also part of the CPS Advanced Arts program, which is an off-campus high school magnet arts program that provides CPS high school juniors and seniors with a year-long, two-hour Honors or AP-level arts course. Although he wants to keep art as just a hobby, he said his interests combine together and are both a large part of who he is.
“Art, you have to think outside the box and that is the same with engineering,” he said.
Smith’s artwork, which focuses on portraits and hands using paints and pastels, was shown at Gallery Guichardin Bronzeville for an event called Artwork in Motion.
“I feel honored — I never thought that my artwork would be in a gallery,” he said.
Looking back on their high school experience, the students said it gave them valuable life lessons they will carry on to college. For Smith, the push to try something new and a strong work ethic are what he has learned. Duckworth said commitment has been a big lesson for her.
“Sticking things out to the finish [and] doing things that are going to be best for me in the future,” she said is what she will take away from Harlan. “I am always trying to go for my top thing I want to do.”