Mae Knight, a Wilkinsburg resident attending Pittsburgh Westinghouse Academy as part of the PPS/Wilkinsburg Partnership, spoke as the co-valedictorian of the class of 2017. In addition to earning the academic distinction of co-valedictorian with her 4.23 cumulative GPA, Mae also played the clarinet for the school band and participated in theatre. Her spirit of activism and leadership also drove school anti-racism initiatives, and she proactively advocated that more advanced courses be brought to Pittsburgh Westinghouse.
Sean Means, the mid-level Social Studies teacher at Pittsburgh Westinghouse, speaks highly of Mae’s character. “In addition to helping others on the classroom, Mae is constantly advocating for those who lack influence or a voice; moreover, she is willing to entrench herself in what she believes is morally right instead of what is presently popular. Such a level of empathy and backbone is what makes her unique. When you combine this with her level of self-motivation and discipline, I believe every goal she desires will be well within her reach.”
Prior to attending Pittsburgh Westinghouse, Mae spent her elementary school years at Maple Ridge in rural Somerset, PA, where she grew up. After her eighth-grade year, her father’s work and family ties brought them to Wilkinsburg. The move to an urban African American community was very different from what she was used to, but it felt more like home to her. Unfortunately, Mae felt as if her former classmates, teachers and neighbors in Somerset weren’t as sensitive to people of color as they might have been and didn’t really understand her.
For high school, Mae spent her ninth-grade year at a Propel Charter School and then transferred to Serra Catholic High School – but neither was a good fit. But changing schools in the middle of her senior year wasn’t as difficult as one might expect, Mae said. “It was a smooth transition. Everyone was very welcoming,” she explained. After a brief pause, she added, “Coming to Westinghouse was a blessing.”
Although Mae didn’t know what to expect before coming to Pittsburgh Westinghouse, it’s left a good impression. Knowing what she knows now, and if the Wilkinsburg School District’s partnership existed with Pittsburgh Public Schools when she was a freshman, Mae would have chosen to go to Pittsburgh Westinghouse all four years of high school. She would have liked to have witnessed first-hand the changes the school has undergone during that time and believes she could have made additional positive changes.
As for how her fellow Wilkinsburg classmates are doing, Mae said, “They really blend in with the rest of the population. You can only tell someone is from Wilkinsburg if they are wearing something like a Wilkinsburg jersey.” She then stressed that Wilkinsburg students are active in the school community and listed student council, sports and honor roll as examples of activities and accomplishments. “People are engaging and the partnership is working.” It upsets her when adults outside the school suggest otherwise.
Mae is looking forward to starting her summer internship at The Heinz Endowments before attending La Salle University in the fall. There she’ll major in International Relations and minor in Chinese which she writes and speaks quite well. “I am most excited for the classes – I enjoy homework. I am most nervous about getting homesick, but I try thinking of it as being away at sleep-away camp.”
After graduating from La Salle University, Mae said, “I’d like to work in education. I want to be a teacher and I’d also like to teach abroad. Then after teaching abroad, I’d maybe like to come back…I love Wilkinsburg. It’s beautiful and good things are happening here.”