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CAMDEN, N.J. (CBS) – Camden’s LEAP Academy Charter School recently held its graduation, where 100 percent of its senior class graduated and will go on to college. Even amid so many impressive kids, 18-year-old Jenny Xie still managed to stand out from the rest. She overcame some unbelievable odds to become class valedictorian.
Jenny is the first in her family to graduate high school and attend college. She never imagined she’d graduate at the top of her class.
“I always want to shoot for the top, shoot for the best,” she said, “I mean, who wouldn’t, right?”
But the path to the top hasn’t been easy. Born in a rural part of Fuzhou, China, Jenny and her parents immigrated to the United States when she was 6.
“My parents, they both gave up school when they were in middle school,” she said. “They were pretty poor growing up and then they were both the oldest in their families, so they had to start working at a young age.”
Jenny’s parents wanted a different future for their daughter. To provide that, they moved them about a dozen times in as many years, following whatever jobs they could get.
The family eventually settled in Camden, where Jenny enrolled at LEAP Academy at the end of the 10th grade.
“I had to learn to catch up on the different classes,” she said. “I had to take some classes repeated because of credit clashes and stuff. I never thought I would be valedictorian.”
Khary Golden, chief innovation officer and director of LEAP’s Early College program, wasn’t at all surprised.
“She is absolutely amazing, her intellectual stamina is one of the most impressive features that I’ve ever seen in a student,” Golden said. “If I had about 100 Jennies, I might be out of a job.”
Jenny has essentially completed her freshman year of college, thanks to LEAP’s dual-enrollment program, where seniors can take college level courses at Rutgers or Rowan. She did it all while helping to care for her 4-year-old brother and working long hours at the Chinese restaurant her parents rent.
“It helped me to be more independent,” she said. “It helped me to be more mature. I learned to take more responsibility for stuff.”
Though clearly a young lady wise beyond her years, she is still a teenager. Her parting message to her fellow graduates was to remember to have fun.
“One last advice to you guys, make sure you sleep more than you study, study more than you party and party as much as you can,” she said.
Jenny will be attending Villanova University in the fall. She chose Villanova so she can still be close to her parents and continue to help with her brother and at the restaurant.