The word busy does not completely describe Joshuah Campbell, but it is accurate.
Campbell, valedictorian of Cheraw High School for the Class of 2012, has spent his entire life — albeit just shy of 18 years — being involved, being active in his church and community, going to summer Alpha Music programs and band camps, or attending Boys State. He has participated in National History Week in Washington, D.C., which is in June, every summer since 8th grade, and even studied in Normandy and Paris last summer.
So now that he’s headed to Harvard, how has he spent his summer?
At home, sleeping late, and doing “absolutely nothing,” said his mother, Linda Campbell with a smile and a giggle. “That’s a big turn around for Joshuah. He’s always been busy with one thing or another.”
“It’s the first time in my life I’ve been lazy,” said Campbell.
But that’s not to say he’s been frivolous, it’s been “down time” well deserved, with those who have supported his academic and musical talents all his life. Campbell knows how important family and friends are, and how far from home he’ll be traveling to further his education. He’s been enjoying the summer.
Campbell will fly out of Charlotte Aug. 21 to attend one of the oldest and most prestigious institutions of higher learning in America, Harvard College in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The school was established in 1636.
“We’ve been told by school officials that he is the only student from Cheraw, or even Chesterfield County, to attend Harvard,” said Linda Campbell. But technically, Campbell’s own aunt, Gloria Campbell, who graduated from Cheraw High School, attended graduate school at Harvard for a short time.
Campbell’s route to Harvard has been in progress, he said, since 6th grade. Part of his determination was derived through family ties and role models. “I was in 6th grade when I learned my aunt had attended Harvard, but was unable to continue her studies due to finances.”
“Besides, I knew it was the best. And I just wanted to go to the best,” said Campbell.
Claims have also been made that Campbell is the first black valedictorian to graduate from Cheraw High. But according to what Campbell and his mother say they discovered from the graduation program of Cheraw High School 1972, the first black person to achieve the honor of valedictorian was actually a woman, Rhonda Reid. That was just four years after Chesterfield County Schools integrated. Her title was not denied, but it was not printed as such on the graduation program. Today she is Judge Rhonda Reid Winston of Washington, D.C., who conducts special seminars for law classes at Harvard.
Campbell first visited the school in May of 2011, and immediately felt it was right for him. “It has a metropolitan flavor, yet the campus is self-contained,” he said. “I like that.” Cambridge has a “small city feel,” with an atmosphere that reminds him of historic Charleston.
Of course, with all the on-line activity involving young college students these days, Campbell has “virtually” met each of his roommates, who will be living in Wigglesworth Hall with him. Yes, Wigglesworth is at Harvard, not Hogwarts. His roommates are from North Dakota, Rhode Island and Georgia, via Guatemala. Several famous Harvard students, who also lived in Wigglesworth, include Ted Kennedy, Bill Gates and Lenard Bernstein.
Campbell explained that Harvard students don’t declare a single major. “The programs at Harvard aren’t designed to prepare for specific careers,” said Campbell. Instead, students choose two areas of concentration. He has chosen to study linguistics and music.
In reference to his love for linguistics, Campbell said, “Just learning the language is boring. I want to know why things are the way they are.”
Campbell plays the saxophone. Having participated in marching band for so long, he has not yet decided whether or not he will join Harvard’s Pep Band. Campbell also sings, and his recent vocal audition landed him a spot on the Freshman Arts Program.
As Campbell packs his bags, his saxophone, and his winter coats to send by mail, he takes with him the love of family and knowledge. Whether he’s the first student, of any color from Chesterfield County, to go to Harvard or not; whether he’s the first black valedictorian to graduate from Cheraw High or not; he’s going to Harvard!
Campbell earned several scholarships for tuition, including the Palmetto Achievement Award which he had to turn down because he’s going out of state. He did, however, receive scholarships from the Methodist church, the Rotary club, and the Maggie E. Reid Memorial scholarship.
And while he was resting this summer, Campbell’s essay on Emmett Till was published in the July 2012 edition of Magazine of History by the Organization of American Historians. Emmett Till is the young black boy who was murdered in the summer of 1955 in Money, Mississippi. Campbell’s history teacher, Gail Ingram, is also published in the same magazine.
To give you a glimpse of how this young man views and interprets the world, read the following excerpt from that publication, Vol. 26, No. 3, pp 37-39, written by Campbell, as to why he chose to write about Emmett Till:
“While gruesome, emotionally draining, and morally challenging, Emmett’s story was, for me, one of twofold positivity. In some way that may be fundamentally selfish, I knew that Emmett’s story would be a platform for me. In a fortunate moment, I was given the opportunity to give voice to a movement that has changed my own history in so many ways. In 2009, I, like Emmett, was a fourteen-year-old African American male. Like Emmett, I had never experienced real racism or discrimination on the level of the Jim Crow South. And while the haunting photographs of Emmett lingered in my dreams each night, I like Emmett, had a zest for life and a bright future. There was no better time to combine Emmett’s voice and my own to achieve a purpose … Till left an indescribable legacy, one he didn’t even ask for or work toward, a fact I found ironic, yet powerful.”
There will most likely be snow on the ground, at least in Massachusetts, by the time Campbell comes home for the holidays. The only thing he didn’t seem excited about was the weather. “They say it usually starts snowing in October up there,” he said. “I’ll have to deal with the weather. But they also say, you get use to it.”
— Staff Writer Karen Kissiah can be reached by calling 843-537-5261, or by email at email@example.com.