NVHS senior picked for top honor

Jun. 04, 2014 @ 08:01 PM

A Northern Vance High School senior has been selected for a great honor.

Last month, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced the 50th class of U.S. Presidential Scholars that included Henderson native Whitney Johnson and four other North Carolina students.

Some 141 high school seniors were recognized for their accomplishments in academics or the arts.

Johnson is ranked second in her class of 170 students and has maintained a perfect grade point average, even while taking Advanced Placement classes and battling a cancer diagnosis her sophomore year.

“For me, this is such an amazing honor,” she said. “I am very humbled and blessed to have been selected. I look forward to not only representing my country but also my state, as well.”

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars, appointed by President Barack Obama, selects scholars each year based on their academic success, artistic excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as community service, leadership and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.

One young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from American families living abroad — as well as 15 chosen at-large and 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts — are given the honor.

Johnson said she plans to attend the 2014 ceremony in Washington, D.C., on June 22, when each honoree will receive a Presidential Scholar medallion.

Susan Westbrook, Johnson’s English teacher at Northern Vance, said she first came to know the student as a member of the Key Club, a service organization headed by Westbrook at the time.

“I vividly remember she came in, along with another girl, and wanted to know what they could do to help out mothers on Mother’s Day,” Westbrook said.

She said Johnson basically took it upon herself to organize the project.

Her initiative yielded Easter baskets for kids and mothers that year.

“I thought it was pretty incredible, not that she wanted to do it but that she was willing to go out and do it on her own,” she said.

Westbrook said Johnson was one of the best students in her AP English language class.

“I don’t remember a day when Whitney was in my class where she wasn’t completely and fully attentive,” she said.

After graduating from Northern Vance, Johnson will attend UNC-Greensboro in the fall and hopes to pursue nursing.

Sgt. Jessica West of the Henderson Police Department has known Johnson since she was a little girl.

While a student at Vance-Granville Community College, West was in a class taught by Johnson’s mom, Angela Ragland.

West said she is continually impressed by Johnson’s resilience as a cancer survivor.

“It absorbs your life, and that’s not her,” she said. “She doesn’t want that to define her. I’ve never seen her down. I’ve never seen her being negative. She’s always bright and glowing and has that type of personality.”


Contact the writer at smansur@hendersondispatch.com.