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Jahlil Nickens, 18, who earned the honor of becoming his class valedictorian this spring, also made history as the first African-American boy to earn that honor in Lancaster High School’s history

“From the time that Jahlil was little, we could tell that he was special. He has always excelled in his studies,” his mother, Tekecia Nickens, told WTVR. “When he was in the first or second grade, he said he was going to be a U.S. senator.”

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Yes, even in grade school, the Virginian was noticed for his sharp wits. He and his classmates were paired with adult mentors within the community to help them with school and in life.

“He was very bright and alive. A smile that covered his face. He was very friendly and very open,” Barbara Everton, Jahlil’s mentor, told the news station of their first meeting. “You could just tell from talking to him, he was interested in learning things.”

“Jahlil has overcome a lot of adversity and obstacles,” Jahlil’s mother said. “From having to deal with the fact his father was incarcerated not once, but twice, and having to leave his friends and [twin] sister to attend Chesapeake Academy in middle school.”

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Jahlil, the oldest boy of six children, maintained a 4.6 GPA while staying involved in school activities and athletics. He has big plans to attend Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Engineering and wants to earn a master’s degree in computer science.

“I don’t like underperforming,” Jahlil told the news station. “However, looking back, I feel I did it more for my family and the people around me than for myself. I wanted to make them proud.”

Read more at WTVR.