A talented young scholar who is passionate about social justice is heading to Howard University! Learn more about Soraya Chanterelle, who is the first black female valedictorian at her Connecticut high school in the story from Isabella Chan at the Hartford Currant below!

(Kassi Jackson)

Soraya Chanterelle is many things: a poet, a youth activist, and now, a 16-year-old high school graduate.

But Chanterelle, who heads off to Howard University in the fall, will be remembered in her hometown as one more thing — the first Black female valedictorian at Manchester High School.

Her success is no surprise to those in her community either. After working with her at many social justice rallies, Keren Prescott, founder of PowerUp CT, describes Chanterelle as “the epitome of success. I wish that when I was high school — and I say this to my niece and my daughter — I wish that I had just an ounce of the strength and the courage that she has. And I just believe she was made for this.”

“Every day for Black people is a celebration when we are pushing ourselves to show up in a world that is trying to eliminate us. And that is what [Chanterelle] has done being the first Black female valedictorian. She’s pushing through the concrete,” Prescott said.

And she’s not stopping there. The young trailblazer say she’s determined to push for change beyond her community and take on the world her own way.

Q: When did you find out you were going to be Valedictorian at Manchester High?

A: In March, my principal had asked to meet with me, and she didn’t say what the topic of conversation was. And when I had gotten on, she basically said “you’re going to be valedictorian for this class!”

nd I was just so happy, like it was just a huge sigh of relief and celebration. Then she had me bring my computer downstairs so that she can tell my parents. So, my mom cried, and my dad was extremely happy, and my sister was elated too. It was just a great moment for all of us.

Q: How do you feel being the first Black female valedictorian at your high school, especially during such a racially sensitive time?

A: It’s really big. I hadn’t found out [I was the first] until a couple of weeks ago, but when I did, I was shocked honestly. My school happens to be one of the most diverse schools in the state, and [Manchester High] not having had a Black female valedictorian yet is crazy to me.

Soraya Chanterelle is Manchester High School’s first Black Female Valedictorian. (Kassi Jackson)

But I think — especially in this town, which is very racially divided at times — it is a big step towards good change, and it can hopefully inspire other students of color, who are often left out or forgotten, that they can also do great things.

Q: What is something in your valedictorian speech that you hope really resonates with people?

A: This was mostly an address to my class, but not exclusively, I want everyone here to always remember that you determine your future, not what others expect of you or see you as. Your life is what you make of it, so when you enter a room: hold your head high, command the space, demand respect. Make your voice heard, speak your truth, never back down, use your voice to amplify the voices of the silenced and marginalized groups. Find your passion and purpose and don’t stop until you make your dreams into reality.

Q: What do you hope that your own accomplishment does for other people?

A: I hope that for others, students that look like me and girls that look like me, just remember how powerful they are and that they can do literally anything they put their mind to.

This is a big testament to that because the school systems are not built for students of color, it was not built for girls of color. And I still think that there are so many flaws with the way it measures intelligence and the way it gives students value. But seeing this accomplishment can help students of color and girls of color remember that they do have a place here and have so much to offer the world.

Q: So, what do you have planned next for yourself?

A: This summer, I will be running workshops with my school for younger students, mainly incoming sophomores, about identity and turn your dreams into reality, basically. And then afterwards I will be heading to Howard University in August.

Q: How does it feel going such a major HBCU like Howard University?

A: It feels amazing. I’ve known I wanted to go there since [April 2020] and I did so much research and put everything into it. So, getting in and actually being able to go is so amazing.

I’m studying political science. I hope to work in some sort of social justice advocacy or policy reform. So, I’m definitely going to try and continue my activism more in college and beyond. I think getting into D.C. and being able to explore my passion on a greater level is going to be so different but amazing.

Q: What’s a message you believe everyone needs to hear right now?

A: In terms of racial equity, I think “being comfortable being uncomfortable” is something that we all have to grasp and that is one of the norms that a lot of my equity groups use. We use “being comfortable being uncomfortable” because race and equity can be really uncomfortable and hard topics. But being comfortable having racial discussions is the only way we can actually make change.