MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Raylynn Thompson is extending an open invitation to the stranger who told her she couldn’t become Muskogee High School’s valedictorian.
Thompson said that woman is welcome to attend her graduation next month.
The incident happened a while ago after her transcript leaked, she said. The woman, someone not affiliated with the school district, approached Thompson at a store and asked for her by name. She told Thompson that black people can’t be valedictorians, Thompson said.
That woman is likely to be proven wrong. Thompson is set to graduate with a 4.7 GPA, No. 1 in her class as of Wednesday.
“That’s not the only racist comments I’ve heard ... I just use those kinds of things to propel me,” Thompson said. “If you say I can’t do something, I’m going to go ahead and do it just to prove you wrong. I’m not going to let your words define me.”
Thompson, 18, is on track to be among the top 3% of seniors announced as valedictorians this year at Muskogee High School. She has been taking college courses concurrently at Indian Capital Technology Center and Connors State College. She will graduate high school with more than 30 college credits.
Muskogee High School Principal Kim Fleak said she has been told that, despite the thoughts of the stranger, the school district has previously had black valedictorians. Thompson, she said, has had a strong focus since before she arrived to high school
“I really think a lot of it is just intrinsic that she just wants to be the best she can be — she wants to help others, as well,” Fleak said.
Fleak said many from this year’s graduating class, including Thompson, would be leaving a lasting imprint on the school.
Sixty-two colleges have accepted Thompson to their institutions. At least, that was the last time she counted. It has gone up since then, she said. The estimated value of all the scholarships that came along with that was in excess of $1 million.
The University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University, Texas A&M, Clark-Atlanta University, the University of Missouri and the University of Tulsa are a few of those colleges. Thompson has selected the university she’ll attend. It was not one of those, and she said she won’t reveal her selection until Saturday.
Like coveted student athletes, Thompson will publicly announce her pick. She scheduled the announcement for 5 p.m. Saturday at Deans Chapel Baptist Church, 1119 S. Junction St. in Muskogee, where she will reveal it among family and friends, school officials said.
Thompson, when she was about 4 years old, spent time in the newborn intensive care unit. One of her siblings was born with some health issues. Every time she visited her new sibling in the hospital, it was in the NICU.
“I got to see all the babies, and I knew that was something I wanted to be around,” Thompson said. “Not because they were cute ... but because they have their whole life ahead of them.”
She wanted to be a “baby doctor,” as she called it at that age. Thompson said she saw stipulations being put on newborns, including her sibling, about what their lives may be like. Her aim refined in high school to neonatology, a subspeciality of pediatrics focusing on care for ill or premature newborns.
Thompson said the university she’s picked has a pre-professional track, meaning it will help prepare her for medical school. It was not her dream school. Thompson’s dream school in the Washington, D.C., area rejected her application.
“I was sad for maybe an hour because my grandmother said, ‘If it won’t matter in five years; don’t spend more than five minutes worrying about it,’ ” Thompson said.
Thompson’s mother, Lori Thompson, said another part of what drove her daughter was sibling competition. Raylynn Thompson saw a brother graduate with cum laude honors, so she aimed for higher honors, Lori Thompson said.
“Most people slack off their last semester of senior year,” Lori Thompson said. “This girl will not! I made her go to prom.”
Raylynn Thompson had wanted to stay home to do a research paper and finish a scholarship application in lieu of going to prom, she said.
Another driving factor was the thought of impending student debt. Lori Thompson and one of her sons are still paying off student loans. Raylynn Thompson, while reluctant to concede she will incur some debt from medical school, said she is striving to minimize any debt she can.
Even with her high marks in school, Raylynn Thompson admits to having been a troublemaker in middle school; she was suspended twice. Those suspensions were her turning point, she said.
Raylynn Thompson said she hopes to circle back to talk to younger students to encourage them to explore multiple avenues for life after high school.
“Don’t give up. Things may seem different and you might have to take a different path, but don’t let that stop you,” Raylynn Thompson said. “Every path is different. If you drop out of school and you go back, or you take a break from school or if you don’t even go to school, it is OK.”
She said success is measured not on wealth, but on happiness.