Community First: For Quincy Upper Valedictorian, It All Came down to Community

Kamaiya Austin has finished at the top of her class this year at the Josiah Quincy Upper School in Bay Village, but for the South End resident, her journey was as much about community as it was about academic achievement.

Austin was raised by a single mother in the Symphony neighborhood of Fenway and, now, in the South End. Last week she learned she had graduated at the top of her class – a class that has mostly been together at the Josiah Quincy since kindergarten, a situation in Boston Public Schools that is rarely seen.

Having been at the same school since kindergarten, Austin, 17, said when she had to choose, she stuck with the Josiah Quincy because of the relationships she had built with friends and teachers.

“I think it’s a unique community here,” she said in an interview last week. “We have all grown up together and are like family to me…I did get into O’Bryan – an exam school – and thought about that, but I felt in my heart I should stay. The community was what helped me make that decision. This school is pretty small compared to the others. Being able to come from a small school was really important to me…I feel like after you leave high school, you lose that friend group. I don’t see that happening to us at the Josiah Quincy. We’ll be friends forever. They’ll be my bridesmaids. That’s because we have all grown up together. You don’t find that often.”

And staying small has truly paid off for the aspiring college student, who will attend Tufts University in the fall with the goal of becoming a teacher after her graduation ceremony in the South End on June 8.

A key element at the Quincy Upper is the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme that they offer there – the only school in Boston to do so. The challenging program is one that Austin chose, and said it was a lot harder than she expected. However, she persevered through it and earned the diploma.

She said pushing through that program, as well as through the Harvard Crimson Summer Program for three years, was the result of watching her mother overcome hardships.

“Watching my mother face hardships and seeing my family struggle makes me want to go further and to succeed even more,” she said. “My mom is a single parent and has her GED, but didn’t finish high school until later. She’s worked at the same job 15 years. She was never in a situation to have a lot of options. That motivated me to go to college. I want to have options.”

At this point, she said an option she would like to exercise is studying to be the best teacher she can be for her future students – not only academically, but also as a mentor. Having such a tight-knit community at the Quincy Upper, she said she has learned the value of a teacher that is involved academically and personally.

“The teachers here give us so much support  – if anything happens you can text them and they will be supportive 1,000 percent,” she said. “They make sure you do better and…they want you to do better. That’s something I want to do. When I become a teacher, I don’t want to just be a teacher. I want to be a mentor and friend to my students, not just stressing academics.”

Austin graduates with her class on Saturday, June 8, at the Lion de Judah Church on Northampton Street in the South End. She is the daughter of Keyana Boone, and has an 11-year-old brother, Khaymani Barboza.

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