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Zaire Garner: Goodnight Scholarship Winner

Zaire Garner was on edge for a while Wednesday, waiting for a phone call. By Thursday, he was feeling a lot better. The call had informed the South Lenoir High School senior that he had won a Goodnight Scholarship, one of the most valuable merit scholarships offered at NC State University.

 Head shot of 18-year-old African American male.“Everybody was congratulating me,” Zaire said, recalling his Thursday at school. “I will say I felt like a celebrity. I was trying to keep myself calm, but everybody was excited. It was an amazing day.”

His journey to the Goodnight began in December when he was among the 900 graduating seniors invited to apply for the scholarship. In February, he was named one of the 100 finalists. On March 4, he went to Raleigh for an in-person interview and other activities with the finalists.

The interview, he said, focused on “what I do.” At South Lenoir, he’s a peer-to-peer tutor through LCPS’s partnership with AmeriCorps and in the community he’s active in the Chick-fil-A Leader Academy and Junior Leadership Lenoir. 

Perhaps unique among applicants is his year-long apprenticeship with Kinston’s Crown Equipment facility, a job the aspiring mechanical engineer won through an LCPS program that connects high school students with local employers and that Crown originated.

All that fits the Goodnight profile – a strong academic record, a history of involvement in school and community activities and an interest in STEM-oriented careers.

Worth $22,000 annually, the Goodnight also offers its scholars mentorship assistance, community service opportunities, domestic and international travel retreats and enrichment grants that help fund their unique interests. About 50 Goodnight Scholars are named each year. 

With Kate Benson, a 2022 graduate of Lenoir County Early College High School, Zaire is the second LCPS student to win a Goodnight in as many years.

“South Lenoir is incredibly proud of Zaire as he is very deserving of this scholarship and all it offers. He is truly a phenomenal young man and we cannot wait to see all he accomplishes in college and beyond,” said Candice Tyndall, a school counselor at South Lenoir who brought cupcakes on Thursday to help with the celebration.

Wednesday evening, in the aftermath of that phone call, was “a joyful but sad time – maybe not really sad but reflecting back on everything I had done to get to this point. It was so good to know that everything I’d done actually paid off. It really made my day, not just for me but for my whole family,” Zaire said.

He and his mother, Dollette Garner, and his grandmother, Connie Ellerbie, “shed some tears” together. “I couldn’t hold back the tears. I started making phone calls to my family. I stayed on the phone with my dad (Lorenzo) for a good while.

“Everybody was proud of me,” Zaire said. “Everybody was way more confident that I was.”