Black Woman Named Valedictorian 38 Years After Illinois High School Refused

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A Black woman finally received the distinction of being named valedictorian of her high school graduating class 38 years after earning the title.

In 1984, Tracey Meares was 17 years old and had topped her class at Springfield High School in Illinois, and would've become the school's very first Black valedictorian, The State Journal-Register reported. Coincidently, that same year, school officials opted out of naming a valedictorian and salutatorian, and instead honored the two "top-performing students." The traditional titles weren't brought back to the school for another eight years in 1992.

Meares officially received her title on Saturday (April 16) following the screening of a documentary about her story entitled, No Title for Tracey, the outlet reported.

"My first reaction is that it's incredibly gratifying, but it's also a lot to process," Meares, who is a professor and legal expert at Yale, told The Journal-Register. She revealed she "had a lot of trepidation about coming back and meeting my 17-year-old self."

Springfield Public Schools District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill said in a statement to People, that "honoring" Meares "with this title means so much more."

"We want every student to have a feeling of belonging in all aspects of school and a sense of becoming as they leave our schools with a plan for college and career," Gill told the publication. "It is our responsibility to ensure that our system supports students in reaching their full potential. We have seen that high school experiences have a profound, lifelong impact."

After the documentary screening, Gill –– who was a freshman at the time of Meares' graduation –– awarded Meares with a medal and certificate with the official title.

"One way that we can make amends is to call her and give her the name that she deserved. And that is the No. 1 valedictorian spot of the class of 1984," Gill said.

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