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Greenhouse Scholarship goes to Kinston High senior

Kyonna Kelly relished being in the backcourt, leading the Kinston High School women’s team from her point guard position; but, otherwise, the graduating senior prefers the back row, out of the public eye. She’s had to step up her public relations game since being named a winner of the selective Greenhouse Scholarship.

 Female African American high school senior poses with certificate in group with three adults.“I was so nervous,” Kyonna said a couple of times during an interview this week, once remembering the in-person interview that apparently clinched the scholarship and again in recalling the May 6 meeting when the Lenoir County Board of Education commended her achievement. She powered through the tension both times because, as her scholarship quest shows, she is a competitor.

Typically, the Greenhouse program awards scholarships to about 10 percent of applicants. Kyonna, a student athlete who has excelled both on the court and in the classroom, emerged as one of two Greenhouse winners in the state and among about 30 seniors chosen from the Greenhouse’s five-state region. The Greenhouse is valued at $20,000 over four years.

Along with academic excellence, it emphasizes leadership potential and community involvement in its selection process. Kyonna checks all the boxes: a Principal's List student, the starting point guard on the women's basketball team for four years, vice president of Kinston High’s Anchor Club, a service organization, and secretary of the school’s chapter of the National Honor Society, a member of this year’s Chick-fil-A Leader Academy class, an AmeriCorps tutor, a delegate to the Rotary Youth Leadership Summit and creator of free weekend basketball camps for young girls.

That’s the kind of stat sheet that caught the eye of Greenhouse officials, first through an application, an essay and a short video interview and later, after she was named a finalist, that in-person interview before a selection panel in Charlotte in March.

“I was so nervous,” she said, “but after about 10 minutes it felt more like a conversation than an interview. One question they asked me was, if I had all the money I needed, what would I use that for. I said, for more activities for younger kids in Kinston. That was one of their key questions.”

Her interest in youth development has only been strengthened by the recent death of her older brother Demetrius. “My brother was one of my biggest cheerleaders. He would always tell me to keep pushing for success no matter what. Not being able to call and text him about me getting a scholarship or having a big game is going to be an adjustment,” she said. “His tragic death is a reminder of why it’s important for me to stay involved with the youth in my community and encourage them to dream big.”

About a month after the Charlotte trip, Kyonna received an email from Greenhouse to schedule a Zoom meeting “for a further interview,” Kyonna said. “I thought what more could they want to know. I went into the back of one of my teacher’s classrooms while everybody was at lunch. I did the Zoom and they told me I had gotten the Greenhouse Scholarship. I kept my cool until the call ended, then I started jumping, yelling in the classroom, the whole thing.”

Briana Summers, the college advisor at Kinston High, was no less elated, but probably a little less surprised at the Greenhouse decision.

“I know Kyonna to be an outstanding student and an even better human of great character with strong leadership abilities. Throughout this process, I was fully confident she could win this scholarship because she is truly a remarkable individual,” she said. “However, I was very elated that the Greenhouse committee thought the same thing. It has been my pleasure to work with her over the past year, and I am so excited to see what the future holds for her as a Greenhouse Scholar.”

Kyonna plans to major in criminal justice, go into law enforcement and work her way up to the FBI.

Photo caption:

Kinston High School senior Kyonna Kelly, with certificate, accepts the congratulations of the Lenoir County Board of Education after winning a Greenhouse Scholarship. With her are, from left, board chair Bruce Hill, Kinston High principal Kellan Bryant and Superintendent Brent Williams.