Shanelle Davis remembers that her parents instilled in her the importance of education so much that as a child wherever she went during the summer, she had to have a book.
“‘Shanelle, take up a book,’” she recalled her parents saying. “Education was stressed in our house. I had to get good grades.”
Her parents, both from the island of Jamaica, couldn’t afford a college education, but were determined that Davis, 17, would be the first in the family to earn a higher degree.
Since then, Davis has consistently achieved high grades through the years and all that time studying has accomplished more than her parents could have foreseen. Davis will be the first black valedictorian of Benjamin Cardozo H.S., and the cherry on top is she will attend Harvard University starting in the fall.
“Even though the valedictorian itself is an honor because not many people get to be the top student in their class, this is an incredible honor, because I’ve made history,” Davis said.
Davis, a resident of Jamaica, Queens, not only studied hard, but she also took part in various clubs and activities to prepare for the next level.
She took seven Advanced Placement classes, is a member of the school’s National Honor Society and the Gateway Pre-College Education program.
She’s involved in academic enrichment organization Legal Outreach, through which she has participated in debates and interned at law firms in New York City. She has also helped struggling elementary and middle school students prepare for state exams through Future Educators of New York. And besides academics, Davis has been on Cardozo’s track team since sophomore year.
“I had to give up a lot for studying, but I feel like it was worth it in the end,” she said.
Davis is entering Harvard undecided, but plans to use her early semesters to figure out what field she wants to study. What she doesn’t have to think about though, is money.
She will attend the university without paying a dime thanks to a partial scholarship from Harvard as well as outside awards, including the Milken scholarship, the Ron Brown scholarship, and scholarships from the United Federation of Teachers, the National Association of University Women and the YMCA.
“We are living out [my parents’] dream and mine without paying anything,” Davis said.