Houston Senior Becomes First Black Valedictorian in School's 119-Year History

A high school senior in Houston, Texas is making history as the first Black valedictorian in his school’s 119-year history. Kellin McGowan will graduate at the top of his class at St. Thomas High School with a 4.57 GPA. “The guys here are really competitive academically,” Principal Aaron Dominguez told KHOU. “They support each other. They hold each other up, but they’re also vying to be the very, very best.” Dominguez did not immediately respond to The North Star’s request for comment. St. Thomas is a Roman Catholic college preparatory school for young men that was founded in 1900. The first Black student enrolled at the school in the early 1940s, FOX 26 Houston reported.

Kellin told reporters that he was surprised when he learned he was valedictorian for the class of 2019. “It’s crazy to think about how after 119 years, I’m the first African American valedictorian,” he said. “It’s surprising but I’m glad these barriers are being broken.”

In an interview with KHOU, the 17-year-old said he hopes that being valedictorian will help break some stereotypes about African Americans. “People have these misguided notions of what it means to be African American. I believe by seeing an African American do well in an institution like this, that they can see there is more to us than what they think,” he said. The Houston teen was also chosen by his fellow students and the school faculty for the Albert R. Gaelens Award, which is awarded to a senior who “best embodies the Basilian credo of ‘Teach Me Goodness, Discipline and Knowledge,’” the school announced. “Kellin has always been an academic stud,” Dominguez told FOX 26 Houston. “Just an all-around great kid.”

Kellin is part of an exclusive group of elite students called the St. Thomas Club, a group of students who maintain a 4.0 GPA for seven consecutive semesters. McGowan, secretary of the National Honor Society, now has permanent membership in the exclusive club.

Darrell Yarbrough, an English teacher at the school, told KTRK that McGowan is a “superhero (with) a cloak of humility.” Yarbrough said that the teen’s superpower is “his lightning-fast intellect” due to his awareness of the world around him. “We don’t have to know everything — that is God’s job,” Yarbrough told the station. “And Kellin McGowan is God’s superhero.”

According to St. Thomas High School, Kellin’s achievements have extended his family’s “legacy of acclaim” at the college prep. The 17-year-old’s brother, Kingsley McGowan, graduated from the Houston high school in 2010.

Kingsley reached All-American and national championship rugby acclaim since his graduation from the prestigious school. Kingsley competed with a national rugby team, representing Team USA in Houston, Texas and during competition at a famous Irish rugby club.

Kellin McGowan plans to attend the University of Chicago to pursue a degree in political science and hopes to one day become an immigration attorney. “I’m looking at immigration law, because I just want to help people seeking better lives and I believe I can do so,” he told FOX 26 Houston. “I believe you can do anything you want.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.