Being named valedictorian of your class is a huge honor in and of itself, but when Ahmed Muhammad recently delivered his valedictorian speech at Oakland Technical High School, he had one other major reason to celebrate.
The California resident didn't just outrank all of his classmates. He also holds the honor of being the first Black male valedictorian in his school's 106-year history. So when he first heard the news, Muhammad was naturally thrilled.
"I was so happy! The first thing I did was hug my parents and sister. A lot of people have poured a lot of hard work into my education, and being valedictorian was a nice symbol to show for it," the 18-year-old told TODAY via email.
Despite his excitement, Muhammad couldn't help but wonder why it had taken so long for a Black male student to earn the prestigious honor at his school.
"Oakland Tech is the largest public school in the middle of Oakland, so it’s honestly sad that I’m the first. I shouldn’t be the first," he wrote. "In my eyes, all of the thousands of people who came before me, who all had the ability but lacked the opportunity, who all paved the way for me and my generation, are the real valedictorians. I’m just the first to officially hold the title."
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It's a message that Muhammad reiterated in his inspiring valedictorian speech when he vowed that he "won't be the last" Black male to earn the top spot at his school. Throughout his speech, the 18-year-old also emphasized the challenges that his classmates have faced over the past few years and compared them to butterflies who have gone through an amazing transformation.
"I really just wanted to make the speech as unique to our graduating class as possible, which is why I focused on all that we have overcome," he explained. "My kindergarten graduation speech was also a butterfly analogy, and I thought it’d be a nice full-circle moment to try to work it into my high school graduation speech, while simultaneously acknowledging the seriousness of our journey."
The graduate also gave a nice shout-out to anyone who came before him who "had the ability but lacked the opportunity."
"I owe it to them to appreciate this history made by the people who put me in this position. We owe it to them to make sure that while I may be the first young Black man to be our school's valedictorian, I wont be the last," he said during his speech.
Muhammad ended his high school career with a 4.73 GPA and challenged himself by taking several classes at various colleges in addition to his regular course load, which included multiple Advanced Placement courses. He was also a member of his school's varsity basketball team.
The smart teen, who applied to 11 colleges and was accepted into every one, will be attending Stanford University in the fall and he has already set a few goals for himself.
"My goal for college is to learn as much as possible, and apply my education to creating something lasting and impactful. I don’t know what that would be yet, but I’m hoping that this next step of education will be a next step in being equipped to help contribute to the world around me," he added.
When asked to describe Muhammad, Oakland Unified School District Superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell called him an "amazing young man" and applauded his hard work and extracurricular activities.
"We are very proud of the history that Ahmed made as Oakland Tech's first Black Male Valedictorian in its 106 year history, and we know he will take the brilliance of Oakland with him as he tackles his next academic challenge at Stanford University," Johnson-Trammell told TODAY via email.
Muhammad hasn't selected a major just yet, but he's leaning towards studying engineering. And it's safe to say that the 18-year-old is well on his way to creating something "lasting and impactful" since he already founded his own organization called Kits Cubed during high school.
"Kits Cubed is a youth-led, nonprofit organization I founded 'to introduce youth to the wonders of science through fun, affordable, and accessible means.' We create, assemble and distribute science kits to elementary school students across the country," he explained.
Muhammad's short term goal is to provide a science kit for every elementary school student in Oakland, and the organization is trying to secure funding to make this possible. In the long run, the high school graduate would like to expand the Kits Cubed team (it currently consists of around two dozen Bay Area teens) and continue to create and distribute science kits across the country and eventually, around the world.
"The lack of science resources isn’t just an Oakland problem. It’s a Bay Area problem, a California problem, a United States problem, and a worldwide problem. Our goal is to give every young scientist, no matter who or where they are, the opportunity to realize their potential," he pointed out.
As he looks ahead to his time at Stanford, Muhammad feels honored to become the first member of his immediate family to attend college and feels grateful that his parents have helped prepare him for this special moment.
"My story isn’t possible without the love, support, and sacrifices made by those who have come before me, so it’s my responsibility to pay this forward and continue to uplift the kids coming after me," he wrote. "I hope they can see this and use my story as inspiration that their wildest dreams are within reach. I’m the first Black male valedictorian at my school, but I won’t be the last."
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