Being named valedictorian is a big accomplishment for any student, but for Kellin McGowan, the title is historic.
McGowan is the first black student to be awarded valedictorian at St. Thomas High School in the institution’s 119-year history. McGowan graduated from the prestigious Houston, Texas private school with a grade point average of 4.57.
“I was surprised — some of my friends weren’t — but I was super shocked,” McGowan told news outlet KHOU.
The celebrated academic said that by making history at the all-male Catholic school, he hopes to help change the way people perceive black students.
“People have these misguided notions as to what it means to be African-American,” he told KHOU. “I just believe by seeing an African American who’s done well at an institution like this, they can see there is more to us than what they think.”
Aaron Dominguez, the principal of St. Thomas, told the outlet that McGowan being named valedictorian will inspire others. While the principal said the school’s students are very competitive academically, they also support each other.
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McGowan plans to head to the University of Chicago, and eventually study law. His academic achievements also puts him in an “exclusive group of elite students,” ABC reports, called the St. Thomas Club which is for those who maintain high grade-point averages.
On top of valedictorian, McGowan is also the recipient of the 2019 Albert R. Gaelens Award, which is given to a senior student who “best embodies” the school’s principals of goodness, discipline and knowledge.
As McGowan embarks on the next chapter of his life, he offered advice to other students.
“You can do anything that you set your mind to,” he told KHOU. “Don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do anything.”