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WSHS Evening of Excellence speech pays tribute to elementary teacher

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Westerville South High School senior Ama Oppong-Brago dedicated her speech during the school’s annual Evening of Excellence ceremony Thursday night to identity and how she has grown during her time in Westerville City Schools.

One key moment in that journey came from an exchange with Katrina Turner, her fifth-grade teacher at Robert Frost Elementary, Oppong-Brago told her fellow seniors, parents and WSHS teachers and staff at the event.

“When I was in elementary, I had just come back from my home country so I was very different from everybody else,” Oppong-Brago said. “In this new setting, I found myself trying to conform. I had a conversation with Mrs. Turner and it really opened my eyes to appreciating who I was.”

After nearly seven years, Turner can still recall the conversation with her former student and was surprised to learn she has carried the memory with her since leaving Robert Frost.

Shortly after visiting her home country, Oppong-Brago had written a different name — Briana — on her assignment. Turner immediately called her up to talk about what prompted her to change her name suddenly.

“I told her, ‘Don’t let others be the reason you lose yourself,’” she recalled. “Be proud. This is your name.”

For Turner, the exchange was one she’s had with other students who have similar struggles with identity. And when she read her former student’s speech, she became emotional.

“You don’t know the moments someone is going to carry with them,” she said.

Oppong-Brago said the moment holds a special place in her heart.

“Everybody, not just the students but the siblings, parents, and the faculty listening can relate to an extent because I think as humans there have been instances where maybe we do lose ourselves a little bit,” she said. “I thought it’d be vital to bring up the conversation in my Evening of Excellence speech as I’m choosing to talk about staying true to one’s self.” 

The Evening of Excellence program honors seniors for their academic achievements during high school.