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Paving the way: 2 local students are first African-American valedictorians in school history

HOUSTON – High school graduation is always an exciting time, but for two local high schools, this year is historic.

St. Thomas High School in the River Oaks area and Alvin High School in Brazoria County both have their first African American valedictorians. The two outstanding seniors have quite the futures ahead of them.

Alvin High School valedictorian Tobi Phillips credits her parents for first instilling a great work ethic in her and her teachers and counselors for helping her achieve the incredible honor. 

"I've always been very confident in my academics and in everything that I felt was important. And if I look back on the goals that I wrote my freshman year, I did write that I wanted to be top five in my class, and so being valedictorian was kind of like icing on the cake," Phillips said.  

Phillips' teachers and coaches said she's always been laser focused.  

One of her teachers, Chad Mcwhirter, said she is "one of the hardest workers I've ever met, full of personality."

Another teacher, Teresa Witt, had nothing but great things to say about Phillips. 

"She is one of my best students, she's fantastic," Witt said. "She's the kid at the end of the year that's still working. When everyone is tired and giving up, she is still working."

St. Thomas High School valedictorian Kellin McGowan, is also the first African-American valedictorian in that school's history. 

"I was always very studious. Throughout my entire four years, I've spent countless hours studying," McGowan said. "I'm going to the University of Chicago in the fall. I'm going to be studying political science and economics. I want to be a lawyer."

The principal of St. Thomas, Aaron Dominguez, said McGowan is a true standout, even among many high-achieving students.

"Kellin is an exceptional student. It's been a pleasure getting to work with him these last two years," Dominguez said.

McGowan's parents, Karen and Erwin McGowan, credit the discipline of his school for helping push their son to this level of academic success. 

"I think Kellin is not about self, he doesn't ask for much. So I think a lot of that community environment is because he really wants to make a difference, make a bigger impact," Erwin McGowan said.

This fall, Phillips will be attending the University of Texas in Austin, pursuing a degree in nursing. She wants to become a pediatric nurse practitioner.  

McGowan hopes to specialize in immigration law after he graduates from law school.