Like many other high school seniors, Mebruk Jemal is counting the days until summer and excited to begin a new adventure at college.
But there’s something unique about 18-year-old Jemal: he will be Hillcrest High School’s first African-American salutatorian.
“His outstanding academic performance makes all of us, both on campus and throughout the Hillcrest community at large, proud to say I know Mebruck Jemal,” school monitor George Robinson said.
Robinson and the Hillcrest High community celebrated Jemal with an academic signing day, much like star athletes are celebrated as they pick colleges on national signing days.
Jemal boasts a 4.25 grade point average (with a course load of five AP classes). Next fall, he will attend the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business.
Jemal first attended the School for the Talented and Gifted at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center, but later tranferred to Hillcrest.
“I wanted to play sports, specifically basketball,” Jemal explained. “I felt like my work-life balance would be better at Hillcrest High School.”
After a few seasons as a guard on the Panther’s basketball team, he took his focus on the court to the classroom, something he said isn’t always encouraged for black youths.
“In the past, there hasn’t been a spotlight placed on academics for African-American kids, no role model,” Jemal explained. “The emphasis has been on sports or music. If all you’re seeing is a rap star or basketball player, that’s what you’re going to do. You need someone to pave the way.”
Jemal has no problem being the trailblazer. He believes that this is bigger than just grades: he is representing a school, a community, and a new mentality for black students.
It’s no easy burden, but he said it’s worth the effort. Being the first black student to achieve a goal is great, but he doesn’t want to be the last.
“It’s time for African-Americans to break down the barriers and limitations,” Jemal said. “You have one life to live. If you have limitations, you’re not living your life to the fullest. Prove to everyone that you’re not in a box.”