Meet South Side’s Class of 2020 Valedictorian: A first-generation Haitian immigrant in Fort Wayne

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced people in Fort Wayne and around the world to adapt to new ways of living. Schools, in particular, have been impacted immensely, leaving students, faculty, and staff scrambling to work and teach from home.

At South Side High School in Fort Wayne, Valedictorian Ashley Remy is one senior, rolling with the changes in 2020.

For seniors, an early end to the school year meant setting aside expectations of what their highly anticipated final year of high school would hold. Instead students were forced to complete their remaining months of class from home and miss out on traditional milestones like graduation ceremonies.

While being named Valedictorian is an achievement under any conditions, Remy had to work extra hard to adapt and achieve her goals this spring when classes moved online.

“It’s a really great feeling, especially because I was very uncertain if I would have the title or not,” she says.

As an IB student (International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme), Remy says the IB exams she had been preparing for all year were canceled due to COVID-19. While many students were disappointed about missing events like prom, football tailgates, or school plays, Remy says these exams were the event she was saddest to miss out on because she spent so much time studying for them.

“It was really disheartening,” she says.

Instead of a test this year, IB is using other indicators, like internal and teacher assessments, to determine who receives their diploma. Remy should receive her results on July 6.

Another tradition, South Side High School’s time-honored Ivy Day walk for seniors, was canceled in 2020, too.

Under normal circumstances, Ivy Day is when senior students march alongside Calhoun Street in their caps and gowns with the homecoming court in their suit and dresses, the principal and staff, and the FWCS superintendent.

While Remy has felt the loss of this tradition, she feels that, in some ways, having an odd senior year has made new memories for the Class of 2020.

“We had a really nice graduation parade, and that was more emotional than the traditional, formal graduation ceremony,” she says.

As the daughter of Haitian immigrants, Remy has worked hard for many years to get to this long-awaited graduation finish line. Her parents came to the U.S. to build a better life for her and her younger sister. As such, they made sure she always focused on her schoolwork.

“My parents had to walk miles to get to school, work to support their families as kids, and school was more difficult without the technology readily accessible to me in the U.S.,” she says.

Remy and her family.

Remy says her parents, Romely and Innocent Remy, who were both raised in Haiti, wanted her to be raised in the Haitian tradition growing up, too.

This tradition is for parents to completely fund their child growing up while the child’s job is to strictly focus on school, whereas in American culture, teenagers regularly begin working at an early age.

When Remy first began high school, her mother did not want her to work a part-time job in addition to her studies. So as a compromise, they made a deal with one another. Remy would receive $50 dollars if she was number two in her class and $100 if she was number one.

When she reached her goal her junior year of school, her mother opted to give her more money as a gift for her hard work.

Remy says her parents feel proud now, not only of her achievement as Valedictorian, but also of having raised a hard-working and dedicated student. But getting there has required her to navigate cultural differences and find the assistance she needed on her own when her parents weren’t able to help her with her school work.

“When I started school, my mother was just learning English, and my dad would help me with multiplication, but once I moved into higher math and general studies, my parents couldn’t help me much,” she says. Remy

While her family was there to support her emotionally, she needed to find academic support at school.

“There were times during my high school experiences when I felt like I had no one,” Remy says. “It was just a matter of finding who I could turn to and which adults I could trust.”

These trusted adults ended up being her guidance counselor at South Side, Ms. Leonard, and her favorite Spanish teacher, Ms. Riley.

“Whenever I faced hardships, I would go to them for advice,” Remy says. “They gave me the courage to keep going.”

Remy says she was always provided with the resources and support she needed at South Side. She believes the school fosters a positive environment for students, particularly those from different cultures and backgrounds.

“There is always someone you can talk to, and it always made me feel like I was at home at South Side,” she says. “If you couldn’t find a staff member, there were also students who were always willing to help.”

South Side is one of the most diverse schools in Fort Wayne, and Remy points to the importance of this diversity. She believes the variety of cultures and backgrounds in the student body, as well as in the staff and faculty, make South Side a special place to be.

Still, throughout her high school experience, she found herself frustrated with the way this representation often tapered off as she moved up in academic rigor.

“As you went up in academic levels, you would see less of the diversity,” she says.

This was another area where the Class of 2020 stood out.

“I was really proud of my class, in particular, compared to previous graduating classes, where the top students would be predominately white,” she says. “We had a Black Valedictorian, a Hispanic Salutatorian, and an Asian student in our top 10. There was a lot of diversity, and that made me really proud.”

Next year, Remy plans to attend IUPUI in Indianapolis and transfer to Emery for her junior year of college, where she has already been accepted. She will be studying Biology and Spanish.

“I always wanted to be a doctor, and I finalized that plan these last few years,” she says.

Ultimately, she hopes to attend medical school to become an OBGYN and to research women’s health.

For students just starting out on their high school journeys, Remy has a few words of advice.

“Start off strong--especially your freshman year,” she says. “That’s the foundation for everything. Explore yourself and your school because South Side is an amazing place to be. There are a lot of clubs, as well as opportunities to start new ones; there is always a teacher who is interested in what you have to say. Focus on your studies because you will grow academically, and you will grow as a person.”
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