Return to Headlines

Derrian Wilson: Morehead-Cain Scholarship winner

Considering the odds – fewer than 3 percent are chosen – Derrian Wilson can be forgiven his sense of surprise, yet here he is: a Kinston High School senior who’s won a Morehead-Cain Scholarship to the University of North Carolina.

African American male high school senior in eyeglasses looking at camera“I wasn’t expecting to get it. I didn’t even expect to get as far as I did. I was very excited,” Derrian said Tuesday, just a few days after learning online that his four-month quest was over and had ended in victory.

“I couldn’t stop screaming. I was just filled with joy,” he said, recalling his reaction to the Friday announcement. After calling friends and relatives to relay the good news, Derrian and his mother, Shamekia Wilson, went out to dinner to celebrate. “A whole bunch of congratulations” greeted his return to school on Monday. At Kinston High this week, he is Mr. Morehead-Cain.

“It’s been kind of crazy,” Derrian said. “A few months ago, I was just applying for the scholarship and now I can actually go to Carolina for free.”
Valued at about $80,000 for in-state students, the scholarship covers all expenses for four years of undergraduate study at UNC and also offers a program of summer enrichment experiences, an outdoor leadership course and opportunities to conduct research and gain professional experience that helps launch careers.

The Morehead-Cain is the oldest and one of the most prestigious merit scholarships in the nation. About 70 are awarded each year. Derrian is the third winner from LCPS since 2017.

When he was nominated by educators at Kinston High to apply for the scholarship back in October, Derrian’s name went into a pool of about 2,500 applicants. In a series of online interviews and activities, he advanced into a group of about 500 semi-finalists and then was named one of 170 finalists.

“With the final interview process, I kind of felt pressure,” Derrian said. “I felt pressure then, but everything else I didn’t feel pressure because I didn’t expect to make it that far.”

What interviewers found is a student who measures up to Morehead-Cain standards for leadership, character, scholarship and physical vigor.

Academically, he’s pairing AP classes at KHS with college-level classes through Lenoir Community College. He is a student representative on Kinston High’s School Improvement Team, a member of the National Honor Society and of the Student Government Association. He tutors other students in math as part of LCPS’s partnership with AmeriCorp and he competed as a member of the school’s Quill Writing team. He’s in his fourth year as a pitcher and infielder for the Viking baseball team. Outside of school, he’s a long-time employee at Bojangles.

Those accomplishments resonate stronger in light of Derrian’s on-going battle with sickle cell disease, a circumstance that figured into his scholarship quest – he was in the hospital when he won his school’s nomination – but which he downplays as “just a part of who I am.”

As a winner, he knows he has people to thank, among them KHS principal Kellan Bryant, college adviser Briana Summers, his teachers and others at the school. “I’m very grateful to them because I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for them. I wouldn’t be here without their encouragement and how much they believed in me.”

His principal was one of the people he called Friday with the good news. “I wasn’t at all surprised,” Bryant said. “I had a really good feeling about this scholarship and I can’t think of a more deserving person to win it. He called me Friday and said, ‘I’m going to UNC.’ Then he said, You’re not crying, are you?’ But I was.”