Voorhees recognizes its top graduates

April 28, 2014

The first student to complete a major in African American studies at Voorhees is this year’s top academic honor graduate.

Ben Bakayoko, a native of Philadelphia, is humbled by this honor.

“I am highly honored that I was able to become the first academic honor of my graduating class,” Bakayoko said.

“Although becoming the first academic honor is an impressive accolade, I am more appreciative of the person that I have become in the process throughout my matriculation. Voorhees has helped me develop my character, focus in life, self-discipline, vision and my commitment and dedication to being of service to others.”

While at Voorhees, Bakayoko was the student government association president for the 2013-2014 academic year. His goal as student government association president was to increase student pride and activities on campus. To achieve this goal, he created a fun day of activities for the Voorhees family.

“I would attribute planning the first-ever Tiger Festival as my biggest accomplishment during my time as student government association president,” Bakayoko said. “Tiger Festival was an event that involved not only students, but also faculty, staff and the Denmark community. This event consisted of live performances, a cook-out, pool party, dunking tank, as well as area vendors’ participation.”

Although Bakayoko was very active and influential to his peers throughout his matriculation at Voorhees, he said his fondest memory was homecoming during his freshman year.

“I have had many great memories while at Voorhees, but my freshman year homecoming experience trumps them all, especially experiencing my first-ever bonfire during that week. Since I was raised in the city, I never had an opportunity to go camping, so seeing a fire that high was magical for me. I also got to roast marshmallows for the first time!”

He also said that he cherished the family-oriented environment that he received while at Voorhees.

Continuing the legacy of Voorhees’ founder Elizabeth Evelyn Wright Menafee, Bakayoko said his future goal is to educate the youth.

“After learning so much about Elizabeth Evelyn Wright Menafee and her accomplishment of being the first African American woman to establish an institution of learning for young black males and females, I feel obligated to continue her legacy. I hope to return to Philadelphia and establish a non-profit organization geared toward empowering the youth of our nation. Additionally, I hope to someday establish a private school of my own that will educate students from kindergarten to the eighth grade.”

While at Voorhees, Bakayoko was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., Student Government Association, White Rose Social Club, African American Male Mentoring Program and Student Support Services Program.

His advice to current and future students of Voorhees is to set a positive example for others.

“The best advice I have for students is to lower their expectations for everyone else and increase their expectations for themselves. Be the best examples of scholarship, purity, loyalty and love.”

Second academic honor graduate is no stranger to top honors. She was the valedictorian for her high school graduating class.

Courtney Jones, a native of Philadelphia as well, majored in criminal justice. Her future plans are to attend graduate school and eventually become a forensic investigator.

Jones said Voorhees has helped her adapt to a new and challenging environment.

“Coming from a large city, Voorhees has humbled me. Voorhees has helped me learn how to relate to many different people of many different locations across the world and of many different ethnicities,” she said.

“Voorhees also helped me become a stronger and more independent young woman. Coming from Philadelphia to South Carolina, which is approximately 12 hours apart, and also being the only child, I was very dependent on my parents, but Voorhees nurtured me and helped me grow intellectually, emotionally and spiritually.”

Jones participated in various organizations while at Voorhees including Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc., the Elizabeth Evelyn Wright Culture Club, Scales of Justice Criminal Justice Club, WVCD 790 AM radio staff and God’s Perception Praise Dance Team.

She said her most memorable experience at Voorhees was meeting people from all over the world her freshman year when she first stepped foot on campus.

“I was able to build friendships with people all over the world,” she said. “Majority of the people that I met my freshman year, I am still friends with them today.  I appreciate them exposing me to different cultures and experiences so that I could become a well-rounded individual.”

Jones also said she cherishes the experience of becoming Miss Junior 2012-2013.

“This was memorable to me because I didn’t think that I would win because I was such a shy person, but becoming a college queen brought me out of my shell and allowed me to blossom.”

Jones’ advice to her peers is to remember what they came to college for.

“As long as you continue to stay focused, you can achieve anything that you put your mind to. Always be yourself and never let anyone try to persuade you to do something that you feel or know isn’t right.”

Voorhees’ commencement is Saturday, May 3 at 11 a.m. in the Leonard E. Dawson Health and Human Resources Center.

For more information, contact Teesa Brunson, communications director, at 803-780-1194 or at