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Class of 2020 Valedictorians and Salutatorians
Posted on 04/28/2020
SHS Valedictorian Jarelly Castillo and Salutatorian Aiyana CooperConyers, Ga. – Rockdale County Public Schools (RCPS) congratulates the Valedictorians and Salutatorians of the Class of 2020. The Vals and Sals were notified in a surprise announcement Friday, April 17, 2020 with a caravan of administrators, counselors and teachers driving to each student’s home with a sign to celebrate their accomplishments. These young men and women will lead their respective senior classes in their school’s graduation ceremony. Salem High School (SHS) Graduation is scheduled for Wednesday, June 24, 2020, 7:30 p.m. at SHS; Rockdale County High School (RCHS) and Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology (RMSST) Graduation is scheduled for Thursday, June 25, 2020, 7:30 p.m. at RCHS; Heritage High School (HHS) Graduation is scheduled for Friday, June 26, 2020, 7:30 p.m. at HHS (all dates are pending COVID-19 pandemic conditions). For more information on graduations and the RCPS End of the Year Guide, please visit


HHS Valedictorian Matthew Fachisthers Class of 2020

HHS Valedictorian

Name:  Matthew Fachisthers
Schools:  Shoal Creek Elementary School, Gen. Ray Davis Middle School, Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology, Heritage High School, Rockdale Career Academy (Computer Science and Culinary Arts)
Family:  Paola Fachisthers (mother), Briam Fachisthers (father), Megan Fachisthers and Sophia Fachisthers (sisters)
Extracurricular Activities:  FCCLA RCA Culinary Arts team that was scheduled to compete at state FCCLA, RCA SkillsUSA, Video Game Club Vice President, Rockdale Baptist Church youth group and mission trips Wrestling, Family Promise, Meals on Wheels
Favorite Subject:  Language Arts - It's my worst subject but I thoroughly enjoy it.
Awards/Scholarships:  Zell Miller, UGA Award of Merit, Georgia Science and Engineering Fair Aspire Communications Award, Superintendent's Academic Scholar  
College:  Georgia Tech
Intended Major and Career Field:  Computer Science
What was your reaction during the surprise announcement?
I got told to dress up, and I was like why? I haven't put on any formal clothes since school got closed. I step out the house and first thing I see is this big black car and I thought it was weird. There were all these cars lined up in the front yard and I see the sign that said I'm valedictorian. It was crazy. It was such a great surprise. It was so sweet. We are so excited and thankful.
What was your family’s reaction?
They were so happy for me. They were all dressed up too, and took pictures of me.
What do you hope to do over the summer?  
Save money and prepare for college.
Memorable help from a teacher/staff member:
Chef Macdonald, he's been a teacher that has had endless faith in me. He's been a really inspiring role model. This year, I was part of the (FCCLA) RCA Culinary Team and we'd stay after school and practice chicken fabrication. Dr. Kimble (Dual Enrollment English), she's amazing, we have great discussions in her class. Mr. Smith (Manufacturing and Computer Science), he's an incredible teacher. Mr. Greg, a Georgia State University professor, Ms. Logsdon in 8th grade social studies, she was a big part of me learning to enjoy school.
Best high school experience:  
In 10th grade, we worked on the county-wide science fair, it's a really big thing. My family was invested, my teachers were invested. I was super tired. It was a lot of pressure. I don’t like speaking in front of people. I was going to call out sick and just have them give my board the base score and I would barely pass. But my teacher, Mr. Huebsch, pulled me aside and said you should go, you’ll really enjoy it. I go and I'm super nervous and sweaty. I have five of the most serious judges in the world and I can’t tell how I did. That night I won so many awards for different categories, they kept calling me up (for awards). It was a great moment, to realize my hard work and see it all pay out.
Advice to Freshmen:   
Prioritize your relationships with people. The thing that’s going to persevere beyond a grade or beyond social status is the relationship you have with someone.
Thank you to all the people who supported me. I want to thank my parents for being such a great influence and support, all the teachers who pushed me to work hard, God for the abilities that I have, Josie Rowan.

HHS Salutatorian Elaina Mosely Class of 2020

HHS Salutatorian
Name:  Elaina Mosely
Schools:  C.J. Hicks Elementary School, Gen. Ray Davis Middle School, Heritage High School
Family:  Sonya Mosely (mother), Eliott Mosely Sr. (father), Eliott Mosely Jr. (brother)
Extracurricular Activities:  Vice President and Historian of National Honor Society, Member of Teen Advisory Board of Nancy Guinn Memorial Library, Historian of Young People’s Department of Saint Philip AME Church, 2020 Forever Pink Foundation Debutante, Georgia Tech Center for Education Integrating Science, Mathematics, and Computing, Duke TIP Crisis: Health and Medicine Program- St. Petersburg College, Morehouse Medical School STEM Program, National Student Leadership Conference at American University-Washington, D.C., Rockdale Youth Leadership
Favorite Subject:  Biology and Math
Awards/Scholarships:  Zell Miller. Superintendent’s Academic Scholar, Merit scholarships from the institutions that I have been accepted into, UGA Certificate of Merit, 2018 1st Place Rockdale Regional Science and Engineering Fair, 1st Place Environmental Protection Agency Essay Contest, Wesley College Book Award 
College(s):  Deciding between Spelman College, Georgia Tech, Howard University, North Carolina A&T, Xavier University of Louisiana, Clark Atlanta University, Fisk University, and Agnes Scott College.
Intended Major and Career Field:  Health Sciences and future physician
What was your reaction during the surprise announcement?
I was very excited and proud of my hard work and accomplishments. When I think about all of the late nights of studying and preparing for class and exams, I was happy to know that it all paid off. I was happy to see my principal, Mrs. Richards and the administrative team come and congratulate me, and this was an honor.  
What was your family’s reaction?
My family was extremely happy, and they surprised me flowers and balloons.
What do you hope to do over the summer?
I hope to relax and prepare for college.
Memorable help from a teacher/staff member:
I received help in becoming a better writer from all of my literature teachers at Heritage, in particular, Mr. Rigdon, Ms. Howell, and Ms. Rowe. My math and science teachers - Ms. Morton, Mr. Canty, and Ms. Hooley - helped me by allowing me to do experiments and performance tasks that broadened my interest in STEM.
Best high school experience:
My best high school experience was when my brother and I had our AP Literature class together, because we sat by each other and we helped each other learn.
Advice to Freshmen:   
Have a lot of fun in high school, but stay focused on your learning.  
I would like to thank my family for all of their support and prayers throughout all of my years of school. I look forward to my next journey.  


RCHS Valedictorian Steven Rivers Class of 2020

RCHS Valedictorian
Name:  Steven Omari Rivers

Schools:  Young Americans Christian School, Rockdale County High School
Family:  Connie Rivers (mother), Tracy Rivers (father), Cameron Rivers (brother).
Extracurricular Activities:  National Honors Society, National Mathematics Honors Society, Beta Club, teacher assistant AP Psychology, Varsity Soccer
Favorite Subject:  AP Psychology was by far my favorite subject throughout all of my years in school. I loved my psychology class more than any other class I have taken. I have never been so intrigued and excited about a subject!  
Awards/Scholarships:  STAR Student (highest SAT score) for RCHS, Georgia Certificate of Merit, Superintendent’s Academic Scholar, All-Region and Defensive MVP for Varsity Soccer
College:  Vanderbilt University
Intended Major and Career Field:  Human and Organization Development which in essentially the psychology of business. I am not sure what I want my career to be, but I would love to be involved with some form of international business.
What was your reaction during the surprise announcement?
When I found out I was valedictorian I was in complete and utter shock. I have not been at Rockdale for all four years, so I assumed I would not even break into the top 10 in my class because of the magnitude of students this year. It was an extremely surreal experience especially because it was the culmination of years and years of hard work and dedication.
What was your family’s reaction?
My parents were extremely proud of me, but they were not surprised. They have always believed in me and my abilities even when I thought I could not accomplish my dreams.
What do you hope to do over the summer?
Over the summer I hope to prepare for college. I want to stay in my studies so that I am adequately prepared for college! More importantly though, I want to spend time with my friends. I have been so focused on my education that I have not spent as much time as I would have likely to with the people I grew up with! All of the hard work is over with so now I want to enjoy myself.
Memorable help from a teacher/staff member:  
The most memorable help I received in high school was from my AP Psychology teacher Mrs. Arrington. She was by far the best and most influential teacher I had throughout all of high school. She saw that I was the new kid and did everything in her power to make sure I felt welcomed and accepted. She made me excited to learn more about the world and its inhabitants.
Best high school experience:  
My favorite high school experience would have to be staying in Mrs. Arrington’s classroom after third period this year. My friend Jaylah and I would stay after Mrs. Arrington’s class left to catch up on homework and other assignments or sometimes just to talk because Mrs. Arrington had a planning period. Jaylah even taught me a little bit of calculus!
Advice to Freshmen:   
The best advice I can give to a freshman is to just take school seriously. It is said often, but not too many people listen to that advice. Freshman year is by far the most important year of high school because it sets the stage for the next four years. Also, have fun. School should be about education and expanding your knowledge, but you should have a healthy balance of school and other activities. Make sure you take time for yourself and others because school can be overwhelming at times.
I am extremely grateful to Rockdale County High School for accepting me and treating me like one of their own. I have made memories here that will last a lifetime, so thank you Rockdale!

RCHS Salutatorian Spirit Williams Class of 2020

RCHS Salutatorian
Name:  Spirit Williams

Schools:  Shoal Creek Elementary School, Edwards Middle School, Rockdale County Magnet School for Science and Technology, Rockdale County High School, Rockdale Career Academy
Family:  Keshius Williams (mother), Duane Williams (father), Corshell Williams (older sister), Promise Williams and Grace Williams (younger sisters), Legend Williams (younger brother), grandparents Arthur Williams and Alma Williams and the late Rhonda Gilliam.
Extracurricular Activities:  Girls In Focus To Succeed (GIFTS) Club, National Honor Society, Varsity Basketball
Favorite Subject:  Math
Awards/Scholarships:  Merit Scholarship at Clark Atlanta, Institutional Scholarship and University of West Georgia, Superintendent’s Academic Scholar, Institutional Award from West Virginia State.
College:  University of West Georgia
Intended Major and Career Field:  Biology, plastic surgery. I find it so interesting how you can modify parts, such as skin grafts, you can take it from another part of your body.
What was your reaction during the surprise announcement?
I was very confused. After I found out I was very happy. I was the only one who didn’t know about it. I heard the honking and came outside. They had a big canvas with my picture on it, Dr. Breakfield had the sign, they had balloons in the car.  
I always kept track of my ranking but it was a surprise.
What was your family’s reaction?
They were very happy. They called a whole bunch of family members and posted it on social media.
What do you hope to do over the summer?
Look for scholarships and get ready for college.
Memorable help from a teacher/staff member:  
Ms. Hardaway (Healthcare) and Ms. Mataragas (Physics) at RCA. They always believed in me and helped me as much as they could to make sure I was on track.  
Best high school experience:  
Last year when we (RCHS girls basketball) got into the Elite Eight. My teammates from this year and last year were very supportive. I am very grateful for meeting them and knowing them these four years.
Advice to Freshmen:   
Get your work done and try to create a relationship with the teachers instead of just trying to get an A in the class. If you develop a relationship with them it’s going to help in the long run.
My accomplishment as Salutatorian is dedicated to my grandmother Rhonda Faye Gilliam, who passed away October 2019. Although she is not here with us today, I know she is very proud of me and I will continue to do it all for her!


RMSST Valedictorian Ashanah Gayden Class of 2020

RMSST Valedictorian
Name:  Ashanah Gayden

Schools:  Peek’s Chapel Elementary School, Memorial Middle School, Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology
Family:  Aviella Gayden (mother), Darick Gayden (father), Abigail Gayden (older sister)
Extracurricular Activities:  Science Team/Envirothon captain, National Honor Society President, Student Council Vice President, Beta Club Vice President, Camera Club Secretary, Varsity Swim Team, Mu Alpha Theta and Math Team, Nancy Guinn Memorial Library Teen Advisory Board Secretary, Girls Summer STEAM Camp counselor, Rockdale Youth Leadership.
Favorite Subject:  Research
Awards/Scholarships:  Top 10 Grand Champion Award at Georgia Science and Engineering Fair (GSEF), 1st Honors at GSEF
Boehringer Ingelheim Animal Health and Biotech award, ISEF (International Science and Engineering Fair) qualifier, PEYA Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Environmental Youth Award, Association of Women Geoscientist Award, Goddard Environmental Leadership Award, Georgia Merit Scholar, Japan Super Science Fair International Student Choice Award
Stockholm Jr. Water Prize Award, Congressional App Challenge Finalist, ExploraVision (Engineering Design) Finalist
Envirothon State 3rd Place, Superintendent’s Academic Scholar
College:  University of Chicago
Intended Major and Career Field:  Molecular engineering or physics (or both); scientific research.
What was your reaction during the surprise announcement?
(RMSST Director) Mrs. Baskett did email me asking if I was at home and asking me to be camera ready. I heard the val and sal was going to be based on the first semester. I changed and came out. Mr. Williams, Ms. Baskett, Ms. Llewin drove down. They were congratulating me. It was nice.
What was your family’s reaction?
My mom was happy. Before they came she kept saying, “You have to get ready, you have to get ready.” My dad was happy. He congratulated me. My sister (UGA student at home) was doing homework. She was taking a quiz.
What do you hope to do over the summer?
Get out of the house, hang out with friends.
Memorable help from a teacher/staff member:
Dr. Garner – I spoke to him a good amount about college majors and college decisions.
Best high school experience:  
Going to Japan for the Japan Super Science Fair. Japan is one of the countries I’ve always wanted to go to. Being able to go there and talk to people from a lot of different countries, that whole experience was very memorable. It was less a science competition and more a collaboration. Even though you were presenting, you were getting to know people.
Advice to Freshmen:   
Do what you enjoy and do it to the best of your ability.  

RMSST Salutatorian Anthony Jackson Rickman Class of 2020

RMSST Salutatorian
Name:  AJ Rickman

Schools:  Peachtree Academy, Rockdale Magnet School for Science and Technology
Family:  Lynette Rickman (mother), Sam Rickman (father), Samantha Rickman (younger sister)
Extracurricular Activities:  Cross-Country Team Captain and MVP, Swim Team, Tennis Team Captain
Favorite Subject:  Biology.
Awards/Scholarships:  Adventure Award Scholarship from Iowa State, Type I ROTC scholarship for Iowa State, AP Scholar, Rockdale Regional Science Fair Grand Champion, Georgia Junior Science and Humanities, Georgia Certificate of Merit, Superintendent’s Academic Scholar  
College:  Iowa State
Intended Major and Career Field:  Meteorology. I plan to enter the ROTC in college and do four years as a meteorologist in the Air Force. I got hooked on weather as a whole by watching the Weather Channel, starting when I was 4.
What was your reaction during the surprise announcement?
Ms. Baskett had called me yesterday and I had told her I was going to be home that time. But I completely forgot to tell her I had a change of plans and I was an hour away helping my uncle on a job site when they came and she called. I really appreciated it but I wasn’t home. I’m super excited.
I knew it was coming down to this last semester. I was struggling in Calculus with a B. School got canceled and I was able to pull my grade up to an A. I thought I might just pull this off. And then I saw they were calculating from first semester grades, val and sal. I knew at the end of Finals I was ranked second. I thought hey, I might have gotten it.
What was your family’s reaction?
I was with my aunt and uncle, I told them and they were really excited for me.  I called my mom and my dad. My mom, she was getting emotional, I could tell.
What do you hope to do over the summer?
My plans for the summer are to work my butt off. I have a little grass cutting company. I cut about 10 yards in Conyers. I plan to save up as much for college. Also take a little time to have trips with my friends and have a fun and relaxing final summer.
Memorable help from a teacher/staff member:
My sophomore year I was in biology. My teacher Ms. Jones knew I liked biology and was good in that class. She was always pushing me to stay on my game. After one test when I didn’t do as well as I normally do, she pulled me aside and said it came down to the wire with your grade but I gave you the benefit of the doubt. She kind of gave me a kick in the rear and told me to do better next time and next time I did a whole lot better. I ended up getting a 5 on the AP exam, thanks to her.  
Best high school experience:  
This past cross-country season and making it to state for the first time ever. I had told myself if I found out before my teammates I was going to mess with them, lead them into thinking we didn’t make it before letting them know we did.
So my teammates found out before I did. They came running up to me and said we missed it by a second. I was about to lose my mind. I looked around, everybody was real quiet. My friend was taking a sip of water and I saw him crack a smile. I was like, you guys are messing with me.
Advice to Freshmen:   
Don’t overstress about your school work. Do what you have to do to keep the grades you want. One of my biggest mistakes was panicking over an assignment in a class and staying up until 3 a.m. and being miserable the next day when I had a 98 in the class and if I had taken a zero on the assignment it would have brought me to a 95. It’s better to work smart and not burn yourself out.


SHS Valedictorian Jarelly Castillo Class of 2020

SHS Valedictorian
Name:  Jarelly Castillo

Schools:  Hightower Trail Elementary School, Conyers Middle School, Salem High School, Rockdale Career Academy
Family:  Artemio Castillo (father), Maria Castillo (mother), Artemio Ali Castillo (oldest brother), Nayelli Janet Perfecto (older sister), Juliana Avila (older sister), Juan Diego Castillo (younger brother).
Extracurricular Activities:  Cross-country, Student Government Association, Beta Club, The Voice.
Favorite Subject:  Math
Awards/Scholarships:  Blue Ribbon Achievement for Culinary Arts, Student of the Year for 2018-19 for Culinary Arts, RCPS Peer Mentor, Academic Excellence - Advanced Algebra, B.O.N.E Award, Honor Roll with Distinction, Academic Excellence - Chemistry, Outstanding Legal Environment of Business Student.
College:  Middle Georgia State University
Intended Major and Career Field:  Business
What was your reaction on learning you were valedictorian?
Growing up, in Kindergarten my teacher made us do this mini-project of giving a speech if we were ever to be valedictorian. To that day, I remember striving to be the valedictorian for my school. It was a bit of a stress off of me, because I finally made it. I finally did it. I was so happy and proud of myself. I was grateful for those that have helped me throughout my education.
What was your family’s reaction?
What meant the most was seeing my parents’ reaction. All those sleepless nights, tiring days paid off with just seeing them happy and being proud of me. My mom started to cry. That moment will forever be a moment to cherish and remember. I immediately texted my siblings telling them the news; they were proud of me and congratulating me.
What do you hope to do over the summer?
I want to spend and enjoy time with my family and friends. I also hope to start preparing for college. In overall, I hope to remember this summer as the most eventful, enjoyable summer before real life hits!
Memorable help from a teacher/staff member:
The most memorable moments I have were with Chef Rian Macdonald (RCA Culinary Arts Instructor). Starting sophomore year, Chef Mcdonald always believed in me when I didn’t. I didn’t even need to say anything to him but he always knew what to say. He always told me that I would do great things in life. Whenever he would say that I would look at him say, “Yeah, hopefully, maybe.” I always doubted myself but Chef always assured me that I would do wonderful things in life. He is such an amazing and kindhearted person. Someone I will never forget. He took more chances on me than I took on myself. Another one would be with Mr. Daniel (Advanced Algebra). I never knew how much I loved math until I had Mr. Daniel as a teacher. He was amazing at teaching and also he made his students feel like we weren’t alone when we didn’t understand something. Regardless of how many times he had to go over material he did so, until he knew all his students knew the information. Ms. Liggins (AP US History) she’s such an amazing person. She made us feel like more than just a student to her, almost like a child to her. Ms. Benoit (Business), she has been the biggest influence of my career path. As students we struggle to figure what we want to do. Ms. Benoit helped me. Mrs. Cooper (Counselor), for the countless times of me emailing her and going to her office. She was there every step of the way. She was pushing me and encouraging to take classes that would allow me to have insight of my future career. She was always there to help and assist!
Best high school experience:  
Nothing will top me walking that stage and hearing “congratulations” and “we are proud of you.” But as of right now the surprise announcement that my school administrators did today is my best high school experience. They went out their way to make me being valedictorian feel special and something I will never forget.
Advice to Freshmen:   
Enjoy it! High school goes by so fast. One minute you’re new and lost in the hallways, and then in a split second you’re a senior graduating and starting reality. Have fun and think before anything. Don’t let yourself change to fit in.
I want to thank my parents for allowing their children to have the chance to go to school and have an easier way in life than they did growing up. I also want to give a special shout out to Jules, Luis and Juan for always being there and being my rock.
Even though the ending of Class of 2020 is a bit rocky, we made it, Class of 2020. Keep your heads up and remember that we have each other! Stay safe! All best wishes to everyone!

SHS Salutatorian Aiyana Cooper Class of 2020

SHS Salutatorian
Name:  Aiyana Cooper

Schools:  Flat Shoals Elementary School, Ficquette Elementary School, Fairview Elementary School, Cousins Middle School, Newton High School, Salem High, Rockdale Career Academy (Film and Work Based Learning).
Family:  Sheila Cooper (grandmother), Hartley Cooper (grandfather), Delores Selvey (great-grandmother) and Chesson Selvey (great-grandfather), Adina Cooper (aunt).
Extracurricular Activities:  Band (clarinet and alto saxophone), Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA), Peer Mentors
Favorite Subject:  Music and Fine Arts.
Awards/Scholarships:  Band scholarship from Tennessee State and University of West Georgia, Superintendent’s Academic Scholar, UGA Certificate of Merit.
College:  Deciding between Tennessee State University and University of West Georgia
Intended Major and Career Field:  Mass Communication, to become a filmmaker
What was your reaction during the surprise announcement?
It was really exciting. It caught me so off guard. I hear all this honking and I see this crowd in front of our house. I hear my mom (grandmother) call my name. I still had my pajamas on because I wasn’t expecting it. My mom said go change your clothes. I saw the principal, assistant principal, counselors. They were holding posters with my name on it. They had pompoms, and T-shirts, and Salem paraphernalia, and it was just really cute, having everyone honking their horns. My neighbors came out of their house and start congratulating me as well.  
What was your family’s reaction?
My mom (grandmother), she was really excited. She didn’t know they were going to come with all the entourage. After they left, she was on the phone with different family members for a few hours, telling everybody about it.
What do you hope to do over the summer?
I really want to see my friends again. We haven’t seen each other since March. Just travel somewhere, just hang out and see everybody again before we all go off to school.
Memorable help from a teacher/staff member:
When I first transferred to Rockdale County, during the first semester, I was in Ms. McLaughlin’s film class. I was having this really bad day and I had lost this book for English and I had lost my notes for a presentation. She tried her best to help me get everything together for the presentation. I know not everyone would do that.
Best high school experience:  
Junior year, when we went on my school’s jazz band trip. We visited colleges and spent time with my friends. It was the first time I had really been away from my grandparents. It made me put things in perspective of what I’m going to do when I go to college.
Advice to Freshmen:   
When you start high school, start off strong so you can finish strong.
I want to say think you to all the faculty and staff who helped me transition from one school to another. They made me feel welcome. Thank you to everybody.

Photos below of valedictorians and salutatorians during the surprise announcements.

RCHS Valedictorian Steven Rivers with signRCHS Salutatorian Spirit Williams with signHHS Valedictorian Matthew Faschisthers with signHHS Salutatorian Elaina Mosely with signSHS 2020 Valedictorian Jarelly Castillo during announcementSHS 2020 Salutatorian Aiyana Cooper during announcementSHS valedictorian and salutatorian caravanRMSST 2020 Valedictorian Ashanah Gayden with signRMSST Counselor Ms. Lewin with a sign for Salutatorian AJ RickmanSign on car for RMSST 2020 Valedictorian Ashanah GaydenRMSST Director Amanda Baskett with the sign on the car for RMSST 2020 Salutatorian AJ Rickman