SU spring top grad credits ‘high power’ and parents for her journey to SU
As a talented-art student in high school, Naja Isabelle Webb’s plan after graduating summa cum laude from Zachary High School in May 2014 was to attend the Memphis College of Art on scholarship, but a "high power" and not wanting to be far away from her mother, led her to enroll at Southern University in the fall of 2014.
Fast-forward just over three years later and Webb graduates as SUBR's top student for the Spring 2017 Commencement Exercises, Friday, May 12, in the F.G. Clark Activity Center.
Some would say the chief student marshal for SU's spring graduation was destined for Southern University long ago.
“Southern University was the perfect place for me because it was close to home and is where it all began for me, before my existence. A story that may be familiar to most [is] my mother and father met here during their freshman year. Being that my mother is a Baton Rouge native and my father is from St. Louis, Missouri, who would have ever thought that they would have ever crossed paths. Little did they know that a simple ‘hello’ would lead to a long-lasting relationship, and a daughter. So my choice was obvious,” said Webb.
The 21-year-old has earned a 3.91 overall grade point average while at SU and will receive a bachelor of science degree in psychology.
Webb, who ran summer track as a teenager for approximately four years and advanced to the Junior Olympics three of those years, was involved in talented art in high school and the school choir.
"Outside of the choir at school I’ve had the opportunity to sing in multiple honors choir in both middle and high school such as the All District, All Regional choirs, and All state," she said.
Like most high achievers with diverse interests, Webb didn’t have a definite career path after high school. What led her to major in psychology was a childhood curiosity about human behavior.
"Since I was a little girl I’ve been very observant and interested in knowing why people think, act, and behave the way they do. As I got older I began to discover that I had many talents, which made me feel lost about my true purpose in life; but I always knew I wanted to help others. What better way to help others by studying the mind which controls everything about us, especially how we view ourselves which correlates to our self-esteem. Although majoring in psychology wasn’t my initial plan for my life, the 'Most High Power' had a better plan. I must say majoring in psychology specifically at an HBCU has been the best path for me to take," said the SU scholar.
While at Southern University, Webb has narrowed her focus and has maintained her high academic performance as a TOPS, 1880 Society, and “GO” Grant scholar. She’s been on the Dean’s List every semester while at SU and was presented the “Top Student of the Year” award [psychology] for the Fall 2016/Spring 2017.
Like in high school, Webb was actively involved in and out of the classroom during college. While carrying a full load each semester, she still found time for extracurricular activities.
"I am a member of Psi Chi – an international honors society for psychology, I won the Men’s Federation pageant during the Fall 2015 school term, and I won the grand prize for one of my paintings that was accepted into the Student Art Exhibition during the Spring 2017 semester," she shared.
Off campus, she shadowed a professor at the East Baton Rouge (EBR) Parish Juvenile Detention Center, and assisted the librarian at University Terrace EBR Library with helping the students who were behind on their reading and math skills.
In addition to a "high power," the deeply grateful grad credits her family and faculty mentors with providing support and guidance along her journey.
"I received help from numerous family and friends including Dr. Reginald Rackley, who was and still is my mentor. He kept me informed on various opportunities and pushed me out of my comfort zones to be my greatest. He made me realize my potential, and I appreciate him for that. Second, my granny Winnie Wilson, who believed in showing me tough love all the time and instilling more confidence in myself with every conversation. I love her for her persistence for making sure I stayed on the right path. Third, my mother, because without her I would have not made it through the past three years. She maintains an optimistic view about all life events and has pushed me to have the same mind set. That foundation has helped me get through many long days and nights, especially when I felt defeated. To my mother, defeat is non-existent because she puts the ‘Most High Power’ first. The example she set for me and her words of wisdom is what kept me strong," said Webb.
Her mentor affirms much of what Webb asserts as she reflects on her SU experience and her personal journey.
"Naja is a young scholar who has a distinctive verve learning style. It is a rarity to have a young scholar who possesses such qualities in an era of self-centeredness and individualism. She is articulate, gifted, intelligent, and diverse in her research interests. She has the necessary skills and training to be successful in all of her career endeavors. She is peerless and has a quiet, yet spiritual disposition, worthy of praise," offered Rackley about his star student.
This time around after graduation, Webb's plans are more solid and purposeful. She plans to begin her career path working in the school system.
"My passion is to help our young generation achieve those things that they feel may be out of reach. There are many children that are lost and feel that their life has no direction. I want to use the tools that I have learned here at SU and specifically the class, African American Child, to give our children hope, direction, and purpose. I also plan on starting a non-profit organization geared toward youth enhancement which will include after school tutoring which suits the children's learning style and art classes," said Webb.
Webb is the only child of Sonya Webb-Forbes and Victor Jelani Phillips