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NHS valedictorian stays busy

BEN HILLYER / THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — Natchez High School valedictorian Debra Whitley sits under her favorite tree in one of the school’s courtyards. Since ninth grade, Whitley has found moments of peace under the tree close to the school’s cafeteria.

By Mollie Beth Wallace

Natchez Democrat

NATCHEZ — From making the first touchdown in the powder-puff football game to singing in the Mississippi Girls Honor Choir, Debra Whitley has done it all.

President of her class, editor of the school newspaper and yearbook and co-president of the school choir, Whitley said she enjoyed devoting her time to Natchez High School.

“I like being busy,” said Whitley, Natchez High School’s valedictorian. “Not being busy feels so foreign to me.”

The daughter of Connie Whitley and the late Robert Whitley Sr., Debra said she was surprised to be named valedictorian.

“I’m honored to get it, but I had a lot of competition,” she said.

Whitley said that her parents were always encouraging.

“They weren’t pushy as long as I did my best,” she said.

Whitley said she likes being challenged, and that motivated her to do her best in school.

“I had some late nights,” she said. “I did what I had to do to get the job done.”

Whitley was also a member of the National BETA Club, the National Honor Society and the Mayor’s Youth Council.

Aside from excelling academically, Whitley received the favor of her fellow classmates when she was voted “Miss Natchez High School” in 2011.

“I’m used to getting academic awards,” she said. “It was a nice honor to be voted on for personality,” Whitley said.

“It’s nice to be smart, but the most important thing is personality and how you treat others.”

Whitley received scholarships from Howard University, Mississippi State University, the University of Southern Mississippi, Alcorn State University, Louisiana State University, Copiah-Lincoln Community College, Tougaloo College and the University of Mississippi, where she will be enrolling this fall as an honor student.

Whitley said she plans to major in marketing and minor in both English and business.

“Marketing seems like a challenging field because it’s constantly changing,” she said. “And you have to cater to the audience.”

As she prepares for college, Whitley said she receives advice from her older brothers, Roderick and Robert Jr.

“They try to keep me from making the same mistakes they did,” she said. “They look out for their little sister.”

Whitley said her graduation was a bittersweet moment.

“If I have to say goodbye, I’m glad I’m going to Oxford,” she said. “Oxford is small and homey just like Natchez. It will be my home away from home.”

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