Summit Academy Secondary School – Youngstown 2020 Valedictorian Ashanti Harris.

“I feel like it’s my time, I’m gonna make it. My gut is very strong and I can’t shake it. I feel like it’s my time and I won’t waste it.”

When Youngstown singer-songwriter Ashanti Harris wrote these lyrics to her song “My Time” in April, she had just received the news that she was named valedictorian of her Summit Academy Secondary School – Youngstown 2020 graduating class.

“I feel like things were finally starting to look up for me because of all the fails and losses I’ve had to endure in the past,” says 18-year-old Harris, describing what has become a pivotal moment in her life.

Harris and 17 other Summit Academy Secondary – Youngstown seniors will graduate on June 10 at 8:30 p.m. at a “drive-in” style ceremony at the 2800 Shady Run Road school. The evening of fanfare will be highlighted by personal messages to each student from their teachers, photos of special school moments, and speeches by Harris and salutatorian Wayne Heap, all presented in a video. A drone will record the ceremony during which students will individually capture the spotlight as they receive their diplomas.

Quiet Strength

Born and raised in Youngstown, Harris says she has not only worked hard academically, capping off her high school years with a 3.81 GPA, but personally, rising above negative thoughts and fears through mindfulness, meditation and visualization.

“Everybody has struggles they deal with in different ways. I wasn’t in the best mental state coming into this year,” Harris admits. “I have turned it around by seeing the positive, manifesting good living, and being mindful. It’s working.”

Summit Academy Secondary School – Youngstown Principal Ashley Martin describes Harris as a “hidden gem” in a class of students who grew together and resolved issues by discovering common ground.

Harris says she steered clear of social drama and worked diligently for good grades. Often viewed as quiet, Harris says she is neither quiet nor shy. From all accounts, she carries herself with a sophisticated form of social grace, speaking out when appropriate, when it matters, not for show.

“I tend to be very misunderstood. It’s just that I mind my own business … I didn’t go to play around … to fit in with the rest either. I went to be a role model and set an example,” says Harris, who admits she often kept to herself at school.

Graduate to Grace City Billboards

An image of the understated scholar wearing her cap and gown will soon grace billboards dotted around Youngstown along with the word “limitless.” Who knows, maybe the songstress will work the descriptive into a future tune.

Drawn to genres ranging from R&B and soul to rap/trap/hip-hop and pop, Harris says she has been performing publicly since she was in the fourth grade, starting with a talent show at her then-school, Martin Luther King Elementary. Growing up around vocalists, including her mom, aunts, cousins and a few siblings, Harris says music feeds her soul and motivates her. She says she writes lyrics that are both relatable and inspirational to others.

“If I can do it, regardless of my struggles, they can do it,” she says.

She recalls a profound moment, when as a ninth grader at Summit Academy, she performed “Bad Boys” by Zara Larsson. The song engaged a gym-filled audience of students, teachers and families. “Their positivity inspired me,” she says.

Harris says she plans to study music and entrepreneurship and has her eyes set on programs at The Ohio State University-Mansfield, Kent State University or Marietta College. While she works to narrow in on a top choice, Harris will spend the coming year studying cosmetology at Casal Aveda Institute in Austintown. She will begin the 1,500-hour program in August on an advanced track, following a dream she’s had since she was a little girl.

Harris’ move is no surprise for a young woman who lives her dreams as she embraces one of her favorite life quotes: “Take a dream and take off and fly with it.”