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Samone Cullum of Ardrey Kell High School earns Top Senior runner-up
Pandemic didn't limit leadership or creativity
Published Saturday, April 24, 2021 1:00 pm
by Hadiya Presswood

Samone Cullum, a senior at Ardrey Kell High School, is the Charlotte Post’s Top Senior of the Year runner-up.

Samone Cullum, a senior at Ardrey Kell High School, says experiencing her senior year through the effects of coronavirus was a challenge that yielded positive lessons.

For Cullum, being home has magnified underlying societal issues since everyone is stuck in one place collectively witnessing the consequences.

“[It] has helped me realize that it's important to use your voice and to speak up on certain things; to have a seat at the table and take action,” said Cullum, the 2021 Top Senior runner-up.

Maturing through “the new normal” during the last year affected her perceptions about social justice, and she was motivated to get involved with a number of organizations, including Jack and Jill, UKnighted Task Force, Knights in Action, Ardrey Kell Student Leadership Team and Ardrey Kell Executive Board. As a result, she has stepped out of her shell and grown as leader.

In her leadership roles Cullum is charged to consider how to address a situation from multiple points of view, how different people will respond to proposed solutions and how everyone is affected. Proposing solutions has gotten her more in touch with her creative side, especially within her Executive Board role on student council.

“We had to get a lot more creative because we didn't want to look at it as a binary situation where either have it in person or you have it completely online,” she said. “We tried to find a medium where students and all the people involved will be safe while not trying to do everything online.”

Student council was able to organize events like a Halloween trivia night, hot chocolate drive-thru, senior breakfast drive-thru and senior masks with Ardrey Kell’s insignia.

“We had to learn how to motivate ourselves and stay motivated because we were repeatedly told ‘no’ this year, a lot more than normal, so we had to get some intrinsic motivation to keep going because we owe it to the rest of our class to try to do something fun,” Cullum said.

With numerous engagements, in addition to being a student, Cullum expressed the importance of taking care of her mental health, which she would sometimes sacrifice for the sake of an assignment or grade, prior to Coronavirus. Now she understands how equally important rest is. She stays balanced through thorough planning and communicating with collaborators.

“I've never used my calendar app more than I have in the last two years. Everything's very planned out,” Cullum said. “It works really well with my personality because I like to know exactly what I'm doing, when, where and how; I've had to learn priorities and when I need to take a break … it takes a lot of practice.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has been rough and for Cullum, it has taken a lot away. Her grandfather, Harold Hampton, was killed by the disease and watched peers test positive with its symptoms. She describes her family as “avid mask-wearers” and expresses disappointment with some of the reactions people have to the virus.

“It's definitely made me re-evaluate some people that were in my life,” Cullum said. “I can’t have people surrounding me that don’t respect other people and [don’t] respect science, and [it’s a] general courtesy at this point. So, it's definitely revealed to me some people's true intentions and true nature, but it's definitely kind of been rough.”

Cullum also didn’t get to participate in typical activities that seniors look forward to, and she expresses regret about waiting for perfect moments and feeling like she took time for granted. Prom, cancelled by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, was one activity she was really excited about and won’t have the chance to experience. Still, she hopes for a return to normal soon. She elected to attend school in-person and noticed that her attention and motivation has increased around her peers. So far, she is enjoying being back in the classroom.

“Hopefully, my senioritis won’t get the best of me, but I’m glad to at least have some sense of normalcy,” Cullum said.

Cullum, who will attend Davidson College with a full scholarship in the fall, plans to study mechanical or aerospace engineering and aspires to become an astronaut. Her interests are underscored by her participation in an aviation club where she learns about physics, careers in aviation, teaches the foundations of flight and conducts flight simulations.

“A flight is when you’re basically co-piloting a plane with someone in the Young Eagles program and you get to fly a plane, which is really cool … This year, hopefully, in the summer I'll get to fly a plane. I’m very excited,” Cullum said.

For as long as she can remember, Cullum has been interested in space. One of her inspirations is astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson. She recalls going out with her mother, Princess, to buy his books and listening to his show and as Tyson inspired her, Cullum aspires to inspire others.

“People can see, ‘she’s Black, she’s a female, she looks like me, maybe I can do this,” Cullum said. “There aren't that many black people in some of the interests and fields that I'm interested in. It was really important to me to see myself in that role, so I want to be that for other people.”

Cullum’s support system has been elemental to her success. She credits her parents for helping her maintain balance between work and rest, and says her father Bruce always tells her, “if you can believe it, you can achieve it.” Her sisters, Samori and Samaya, provide emotional support, especially older sister Samori, who has experienced much of what Cullum is going through now. Her friends provide a safe space for growth and teachers encourage and push her academically.

“I've been called a perfectionist, numerous times,” she said. “This year made me have to really evaluate that and really come to terms with what is important at certain points in my life and having to extend myself grace.”


Phenomenal young woman.
Posted on April 29, 2021

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