Local High School Graduates Make Good

This month we are taking the opportunity to highlight two recent graduates from Charlotte-area high schools who have already achieved significant goals while making important contributions to the community.

Ashleigh Carrington Fields

Age: 18

School: East Mecklenburg

What made you decide to write your first book? Had you always wanted to be an author?

I wrote my first book, Caged, in two parts, writing the first section in January 2017 during my sophomore year. It was a journal of poetry I had written as a form of self-expression to cope with the depression I was dealing with due to the weight of schoolwork and the social pressures of fitting into high school. By the time I arrived at East Mecklenburg, I had transferred high schools three times, so it was difficult.

Was it difficult publishing something so personal?

Initially, I was a little reluctant to publish it because the poems were so personal, but then it occurred to me that many of my fellow classmates were probably dealing with the same issues and could benefit from knowing they weren’t alone. When I had my book launch party, several of my classmates came to me and said they did feel the same way and were grateful I had come forward. That was very gratifying.

Did you have other reasons for publishing the book?

As part of cotillion with the Deltas of Charlotte Foundation, all debutantes are expected to raise money for the foundation’s Scholarships for Charlotte Youth. I decided to publish Caged and donate the proceeds as a service project.

What are the names of your other books?

Mind Over Matter, which was published earlier this year; and The Lives They Lived, which is a collection of poems about people who have impacted my life the most. I plan to publish the third book during my freshman year at Howard University.

What do you plan to study at Howard?

Journalism.

Do you think you might follow in the steps of your mom, Erica Bryant, and work in broadcast journalism someday?

Right now, I’m focused on print journalism.

Gavin Gwaltney

Age: 18

School: Charlotte Latin

What first attracted you to the law?

My father is a lawyer, so I’ve always had exposure to the law, but in middle school, I really became interested in the way criminal law impacts people’s lives. I wanted to get involved in a program that had a real impact on people’s lives via the legal system.

When did you decide you definitely wanted to become a lawyer?

I’ve always said I wanted to be a lawyer, but my participation in Mecklenburg County Teen Court crystallized the fact that I want to be a prosecutor and represent the state or federal government.

What is Teen Court?

It is an alternative justice system for first-time misdemeanor offender teens sponsored by the Assistance League of Charlotte. Offenders must admit what they did to qualify for the program and are required to stand before a jury of their peers and tell their stories. Everyone involved in the process is a teen, and the goal of the program is to help the offender accept responsibility for what they did.

You were a member of Charlotte Latin’s debate club. How do you see that benefiting you in your career?

Much like my experience in Teen Court, being in debate club has helped me learn to tell a narrative succinctly, in a straightforward way, so that people can understand what is most important.

You’ve also had quite a distinguished career as a varsity golfer at Charlotte Latin. What has been your proudest accomplishment in the sport?

My proudest golf accomplishment is qualifying for and competing in the PURE Insurance Championship Impacting The First Tee at Pebble Beach. This was a Pro-Am event and afforded me the opportunity to play alongside professional golfer Rocco Mediate.

Alex Donatelli

Age: 18

School: East Mecklenburg

You’ve been involved in various community activism projects while in high school. How did you decide where to focus your energy?

I focused on the LGBTQ community and food security. Being gay and a transgender person myself, I wanted to be involved in that community and act as a mentor to younger kids. As a Charlotte native, I’ve grown up witnessing the lack of upward mobility and the large wealth disparities that exist in the city; therefore, poverty and food security are issues I hold close to my heart. 

What specific organizations have you volunteered with?

I ran my school’s Gender Sexuality Alliance club for three years, was heavily involved with Time Out Youth [Charlotte’s LGBTQ center] and interned with Point of Pride, an international organization that focuses on empowering transgender individuals. I also served on my school’s student congress, which partnered with Second Harvest Food Bank for the Student Hunger Drive, a student-led project to raise funds and canned goods for members of the community identified as food-insecure. The 2019 Student Hunger Drive raised a record-breaking 348,226 pounds in donations.

Where are you going to college, and what do you plan to study?

I’ll be attending Davidson College, where I will major in sociology. My goal is to become a health adviser while in college, centering my efforts on HIV/AIDS work. I’ve been awarded a Bonner Scholarship, a community service-oriented program I intend to utilize as an advocate for those living with HIV/AIDS, focusing on educational, preventative and support-based projects.