Barnes hopes to make a difference in others’ lives

Published 8:09 pm Thursday, August 3, 2023

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King’s Fork High School graduate Sydney Barnes said being named valedictorian was “certainly a surprise,” her hard work and commitment to her studies makes it clear she earned the honor.

“While this title wasn’t necessarily my ultimate goal, it was definitely a pat on the back, so to speak,” Barnes said. “For me, this accolade was never about reaching for numbers or receiving bragging rights. This status is a testament to my all-nighters, failures and fear, just as much as it is to my straight A’s and strong work ethic.” 

Choosing to enter Suffolk Public Schools’ International Baccalaureate program, Barnes said high school was no joke for her as she also added athletics, clubs, community service and a part-time job to the mix. 

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With her goal of always doing her best, she said that meant taking steps back from things she could once handle.

“I reminded myself that the endless work and sleepless nights would have a payout that I couldn’t afford to pass up, especially coming from my background as a Black female student from a single-parent household. Along with studying and working myself to the bone, I came to realize that my strength alone wasn’t enough. I depended on my family, friends, and God to push me to keep going when I wanted to give up,” Barnes said. “I worked hard to have a chance at a competitive education and to bring my dreams to fruition, and this achievement shows me that I am capable of anything that I dream of.”

On the night of graduation and delivering her valedictorian address, Barnes said any nerves on the special day were eased after her Dad yelled “”Go, Sydney B!” from the stands as she made her way to the podium.

“This speech was such a milestone in my life, for I knew that this was my chance to show others the young woman I had grown into,” she said. “Coming to Suffolk, I was known as a timid person, most people simply regarded me as ‘the smart girl.’ However, I didn’t feel any shyness on stage, and I surely felt like more than a smart girl. I felt a liberation that I hadn’t experienced before as if this was the final step to say ‘I did it.’”

Barnes recalls being “overwhelmed” with tears that day, giving thanks to the special person who guided her through her academic journey and her life — her sister.

“It was then that I realized how far I had truly come in my development,” she said. “Following my gratitude, I handed out nuggets of wisdom to my peers, which was the rather easy part. Being the senior class secretary, I worked with the bulk of my classmates, meeting many people that I otherwise would not have gotten the chance to know, and hearing stories that touched my heart.” 

Barnes said that her message wasn’t just her own glory, but the struggles, successes and growth of her peers.

“I felt as if I was back in my school’s auditorium, speaking to my classmates about the fun that was to come from our senior year, except now we had finally reached the finish line.” she said. “Speaking to them one last time was a blessing that I wish everyone had the chance to experience.”

With high school now behind her, Barnes looks to her future this fall at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she plans to study political science with a minor in Hispanic studies. 

She said that UNC was one of the top schools she always wanted to attend due to its humble prestige.

“It is the nation’s oldest public school and has been named one of the top schools in the country, while still being inclusive to students of all backgrounds, not just to those who are financially able,” she said. “When I visited the school, I didn’t feel like an imposter or an outcast, but rather part of a larger community, which is something that sealed the deal for me. Furthermore, I received a full academic scholarship to pursue my undergraduate degree, making Chapel Hill more accessible to my family. In all, UNC felt like my home away from home, so that’s exactly what I made it.”

Barnes’ career aspirations are to become a U.S. diplomat working in international relations on both domestic and foreign policies. She also hopes to work towards improving civil and human rights issues at home and abroad, hoping to make marginalized groups feel “more welcome in this world.”

“Somewhere along the way, I may pursue law, American politics, or wherever my heart pulls me,” Barnes said. “Also, I think it would be exciting to capitalize off of one of my favorite hobbies, skating, and open up a skating rink down the line.”

She said she hopes to have an effect on others during her lifetime.

“I hope to show others what it is to live to the fullest,” Barnes said. “This means having big dreams, being zealous, and taking risks, because how do we know our life is complete if we don’t test its boundaries?” 

She also hopes to show people that you can do whatever you put your mind to no matter where you come from.

“For me, that may look like leaving small towns to pursue foreign territories or helping others through legislation,” Barnes said. “Equally, I could end up changing my field of study to help others from a different standpoint. In the end, I hope that others see that all it takes is passion and patience to bring an idea to life. After all, I was once a little girl full of dreams without much opportunity available and I managed to achieve valedictorian status.”