There was one time that Ashanti Palmer thought about skipping school.
A big snowstorm had hit, but the Mount Vernon schools stayed open when other districts closed down.
“I felt like they should have canceled — but I went,” she said. “I was basically the only one in the classroom.”
Palmer’s commitment to attending school, and achieving big things once there, is beyond question. The newly minted graduate of Mount Vernon’s Nellie A. Thornton High School and Performing & Visual Arts Magnet Program achieved a rare feat during her public school career.
She never missed a day. Not one, going all the way back to pre-kindergarten.
“I knew I couldn’t miss a day,” she said. “It just felt wrong.”
For Palmer, 17, a pristine attendance record is only one part of a sterling scholastic resume. She was valedictorian of her class, graduating with an average of more than 100, and has scholarships lined up to cover four years of expenses at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, where she plans to study biomedical engineering.
Then she hopes to go to medical school before beginning a career in soft-tissue mechanics and prosthetics.
“I just always liked knowing how the body works and figuring out ways to improve it with technology to make life easier,” she said.
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Evelyn Collins, Thornton’s principal, said that Palmer’s unblemished attendance record shows her drive and commitment to excellence.
“No one had to tell her to be determined,” she said. “It’s simply who she is. She is aware of her gifts, but is very comfortable sharing her gifts with others.”
Collins said that Thornton’s graduating class was exceptional, but that Palmer still separated herself.
“We are looking to hear her name later in life,” she said. “She is an inspiration.”
Not surprisingly, Palmer had no trouble with the transition to remote learning in March. She liked doing her studies on her own schedule. “That’s what college will be like,” she said.
Asked what she learned from the history-changing events of recent months — first the spread of COVID-19, then the reactions to George Floyd’s killing — Palmer was measured and reflective.
“It was eye-opening and showed me how quickly things can change,” she said. “I think I learned to take every moment more preciously and to be aware of everything going on around me.”
Mount Vernon schools Superintendent Kenneth Hamilton said educators don’t often get to see the people that their students will become, but that Palmer is different because she is something of a “masterpiece.” He said she will serve as a role model for young girls who follow her through the Mount Vernon schools.
But he wants a student who never missed a day of school to know that perfection is beyond the reach of all.
“I don’t want her to get so pressured that she feels she has to be this flawless young woman,” Hamilton said. “We’re all subject to frailties in life. Things happen, and it’s okay. She has a culture, a society, a village of people who will stand ready to support her.”