Right before spring break, CAS senior Kelsey Moore received an email from the dean’s office. It instructed her to go to the office to accept a graduation award, but she was unsure of what she had won. At the office, one of the administrators told Moore that she had been recognized as CAS’s 2019 valedictorian.
“At first, I was shocked,” Moore said. “This isn’t something that I’ve worked towards. I didn’t come in thinking I would be valedictorian.”
A first-generation college student hailing from a single-parent home in South Carolina, Moore was overwhelmed with emotion after hearing she would be valedictorian of NYU’s largest college.
“I actually started crying,” Moore said. “I don’t really cry, but that really took me out to say the least because just thinking of where I come from, someone like me becoming valedictorian at a school like NYU was a lot.”
Moore also said her background as a black woman in a predominantly white town made her realize how hard she would have to work in order to be taken seriously.
Moore is the recipient of the Roland P. Beattie Memorial Award, which is awarded annually to the CAS valedictorian. Moore will be giving her speech at the CAS commencement ceremony on May 21.
An Africana Studies and Public Policy major, Moore will pursue a doctorate in history at Johns Hopkins University next year. She plans to focus her studies on 20th-century African American women. Ultimately, Moore hopes to become a professor and author.
Upon entering NYU, Moore wanted to be an International Relations major, as she saw it as the best way to become a lawyer. Moore ended up dropping the major and found her passion in the Social and Cultural Analysis department’s Africana studies major. The subject also influenced her decision to pursue a doctorate instead of a law degree.
“The Africana studies classes have really transformed me into the person I am today,” Moore said. “I’ve been aware of my history, but being in classes where you’re having critical conversations on what it means to be black, and what it means to be part of a diaspora, [has] really shaped how I move on campus and my personality. The classes taught me to own who I am.”
Moore has also been involved as an advocacy intern at Domestic Workers United, an organization that advocates for fair labor standards for Caribbean, African and Latina domestic workers and was also a research fellow at NYU’s Leadership Alliance, a program that seeks to help undergraduate students planning to pursue a doctorate and to increase the presence of underrepresented minorities in academia.
While Moore was surprised to be recognized as valedictorian, the professors who have worked with her were not. Assistant Social and Cultural Analysis Professor Sharon Lee commented on Moore’s sincerity as a student and social justice advocate.
“Kelsey is an undeniably special student — of course she’s whip smart, most valedictorians would be,” Lee wrote in a statement to WSN. “But what that title doesn’t automatically convey is that she uses her intellectualism with an eye toward social justice, which means using her studies to better her community or communities. I saw this equally in the way she committed herself to her internship at Domestic Workers United and in the way she researched, theorized, and wrote her senior honors thesis.”
Assistant Social and Cultural Analysis Professor Cecilia Márquez also commented on Moore’s work as a researcher.
“[Kelsey’s] work is destined to reshape the way we think about American history,” Marquez said. “She is a thorough and dedicated researcher and represents everything we could hope for out of an NYU graduate.”
Moore hopes that her achievement as valedictorian sends an encouraging message to students of color at NYU.
“This isn’t just about me,” Moore said. “I just hope that this is for people everywhere and that if they see my face, they’ll hope that they can do the same.”
A version of this article appears in the Monday, April 22, 2019, print edition. Email Meghna Maharishi at [email protected]