Top high school scholars receive top dollar for achievements in Memphis

Being at the top of their class has paid off for students in Shelby County Schools.

Laura Faith Kebede, Chalkbeat Tennessee | 5/9/2017, 11 p.m.
Being at the top of their class has paid off for students in Shelby County Schools.
Educators and parents cheer as Shelby County Schools presents checks to each high school's top two students at the district's annual senior gala in April.

Being at the top of their class has paid off for students in Shelby County Schools.

For the third year in a row, valedictorians and salutatorians at each of the district’s non-charter high schools received checks for $1,500 and $1,000 respectively at an gala honoring their academic careers.

The cash is particularly meaningful in a city where many students live in poverty.

JerMeiah Clay, the salutatorian at East High School, plans to use her money to pay for dorm expenses and school supplies this fall during her first semester at Tennessee State University.

“I was grateful for it,” she said after receiving her check.

Colleges and universities often offer scholarships to top scholars, but it’s less common for a local school district to give out cash awards.

The money came from GCA Services Group, the district’s contractor for custodial services, which has contributed annually toward scholarship funds in recent years. The school board voted to end the company’s contract this spring, but a spokeswoman said the district “is committed to finding new ways to continue to reward our top-performing graduates each year with scholarships.”

The district-produced video below shows how Shelby County Schools recently celebrated top graduates from the Class of 2017.