Graduation 2023: Northmont valedictorian advocates for diversity in arts, STEM

Ja Kayla Harris is headed to Harvard in the fall to study physics.



Ja Kayla Harris is a dancer with the Dayton Dance Conservatory Company and a violinist who advocates for diversity in the arts.

Harris, a Black woman, has inspired other young Black girls to enter dance. She worked with her dance company on a class for neurodivergent kids, including creating sensory-friendly spaces where the kids would not be overwhelmed but could dance.

Harris is also one of Northmont High School’s valedictorians, takes all advanced classes, and has a long volunteering list.

“Watching Ja Kayla dance is like watching fireworks,” said Northmont Spanish teacher Sarah Gosser. “It always amazes me how someone could do things that are very difficult and make it look effortless. Truly, that’s Ja Kayla. She was never loud, never flashy but boy, was she magical.”

Through her high school career, her mother, Tianna Renee Harris, has battled chronic pancreatitis, which doctors determined was genetic and was frequently hospitalized.

The high-schooler said she was able to get through it by staying busy and knowing the rest of her family was there for her.

“She would check in with us all the time,” Ja Kayla Harris said. “As far as her missing things, that was really sad, but I knew that my other family would be there to support me.”

Her dad, JaVon Harris, stepped up, Ja Kayla Harris said.

Ja Kayla Harris said she has dealt with imposter syndrome as a Black woman interested in STEM fields. But having her family support her helped battle that.

In the fall, Harris is headed to Harvard University on a near-full ride. She plans on majoring in physics but said that may change as she is interested in several different career fields.


🎓 Carroll’s Maria Camacho found power in speaking up for her immigrant community »

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🎓 Stivers’ Jonathan Quallen-Cooper found a way out of mental health issues through band »

Editor’s note: This year’s graduating high school class overcame historic hardships amid the COVID pandemic. Of the thousands of graduates, many stand out for their talent and drive. The Dayton Daily News chose four outstanding graduates from school nominations to feature this year. Pick up Sunday’s newspaper or read our Sunday ePaper for complete graduation coverage.

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