Atia Butts | American Graduate Champions | PBA30

Atlanta High School Valedictorian Advises Peers To  Choose Friends Wisely

   By Shelby Lin Erdman • December 1, 2015

Video produced by Dan Gillette and Gordon Ray

Atlanta high school graduate Atia Butts is a prime example of what a senior class valedictorian should be.

“Just anything she just jumps into and does a great job, with student government, leading the class, star student,” Maynard Jackson High School Principal Stephanie S. Johnson explained.

And that’s why Public Broadcasting Atlanta chose the top student, not only as the 2015 Maynard Jackson class valedictorian, but also as an American Graduate Champion.

You always want to have the mindset of succeeding and if you know the people around you are not going down that path then do your best to be nice, be cordial, but distance yourself from those

Johnson described Butts as “our star student and most of all a strong resilient student who bounds through any obstacle that comes her way.”


“I’m just very, very proud of her accomplishments,” she told American Graduate during a recent interview.

One of those accomplishments is earning a 4.0 grade point average throughout her four years in high school.

The top student shared a few tips for success with American Graduate, explaining that one of the most important pieces of advice she could pass on to other students is to choose friends wisely.

“Watch the people that they surround themselves with,” she advised.

Butts entered high school with a group of students who are no longer part of her circle of friends.

“I’m not still surrounded by some of those same people and if I was in a close relationship with them or if I let them influence me, I definitely wouldn’t be sitting here today as valedictorian,” she concluded.

The American Graduate Champion said it’s important to “watch your peers” and “who you keep close to you.”

“You always want to have the mindset of succeeding and if you know the people around you are not going down that path then do your best to be nice, be cordial, but distance yourself from those.”

While making wise choices when it comes to friends can certainly be important for high schoolers, Principal Jackson believes Atia Butts has other qualities that made her a top student and a cut above the rest at Maynard Jackson High and an American Graduate Champion.

“She just takes on any task and goes 100 percent. She gives everything 100 percent.” 

PBA's Atlanta Champions


Scott Allen

"He is such a dedicated teacher who says that he is awed by his students’ creativity and original thought."


Mouhammed Bah

"I think education brings more wealth to being successful than any other thing in life."


Travis Brown

"He just does everything he can to insure that when a student comes in his class he’s removed all barriers so that they can truly learn."


Atia Butts

"You always want to have the mindset of succeeding and if you know the people around you are not going down that path then do your best to be nice, be cordial, but distance yourself from those".

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Kim Bearden

"No child should ever be allowed to be invisible in a classroom."

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Barry Blackmon

"I use a lot of different methods and try to mix my own type of gumbo within the classroom, such as discipline and humor."


Meria Carstarphen

"We really want parents to help us get children in school, on time, every single day and that starts with getting up and making sure they can get out of the house on time, into the bus or walking to school."

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Ron Clark

"We’re trying to lift the spirits of our students so they’ll be excited and they’ll be eager to learn."


Megan Gilroy

"Health can still be fun. It doesn’t have to be this drudgery exercise in this terrible thing."


Dave Howland

"Literally every single grade a kid gets in high school has an impact on their future trajectory. So making sure that that’s a big piece, helps them stay on track to graduate."


Kesha Payne

"Every decision you make, keep students first. I say communicate clearly with parents and administrators. I say collaborate effectively with your colleagues and keep students top of mind."


Immanuel Reed

"When I was a kid, being a part of a program like this helped me tremendously, and I think that me doing the same thing for others, giving them chances, giving them the opportunity to make the best decisions, it’s full circle for me."


Dan Sims

"The hope is in the school house and we hold a primary place in inspiring kids to look beyond this time frame."


Amber Stewart

"The success of a student hinges on the teacher that’s standing in front of that classroom and hinges on the school leader that’s running that school."


Darryl Terry

"As a student in one of the most impoverished areas of Atlanta, I’ve always known that education is going to be my only way out."


Stuart Thorn

"We’ve been able to take the graduation rate for this cohort of kids up from probably what would have been in the neighborhood of five to 15 percent up to now above 85 percent."


Dennis Tolliver

"He captures his students’ attention and they hold on to every word that he says because they know what he gives will truly benefit their lives."

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Jayongela Wilder

"There is nothing more rewarding then seeing a kid that you taught graduate from college."