Diana Carranza was the queen bee Wednesday.
Minutes after West Charlotte High School alumnus Isaiah Scott urged a gathering of 422 high school seniors to be like bumblebees and defy the skeptics, Carranza was presented the top annual award from Communities In Schools, a support organization for students who frequently surprise the doubters.
Carranza, 17, is a senior at E.E. Waddell High School. She and her parents spoke little English when they moved from Mexico to Charlotte about 11 years ago.
But she mastered English - and a lot of other subjects. She ranks sixth in her class of 178 seniors at Waddell, carries a 4.03 grade-point average (on a 5.0 scale), and is active in school and community organizations.
"She is really, really smart, and she's a really good person," said a friend, Waddell senior Valeria Bermeja.
Those were two of several reasons Carranza, who will attend UNC Charlotte as a nursing major in August, won the CIS Leadership Award. She was named winner during the annual CIS luncheon at the Charlotte Convention Center.
CIS provides support services for students at schools with large numbers of low-income students, including 11 Charlotte-Mecklenburg high schools. Thousands of CIS graduates have gone on to college and graduate school, overcoming obstacles that face students from challenging backgrounds.
"I never considered myself as someone who could win this award," Carranza said. "There were so many students here who have accomplished so much."
She seemed to embody what another CIS alum, Isaiah Scott, was talking about in his short speech at Wednesday's luncheon. He noted that a large percentage of minority babies are born out of wedlock, and that many minority students struggle in upper-level math courses. Theoretically, he said, minority students should not succeed.
"But for centuries, bumblebees have confounded scientists, because scientifically, there's no way bees should fly," said Scott, who is set to receive a diploma in a few weeks from Morehouse College. "Yet every day, I see bees fly."
Carranza quietly has become an advocate for the Latino community. She serves as an interpreter for family and friends at doctor appointments and other events.
"Last year, when she finished runner-up for homecoming queen, she told me she didn't mind not winning," said Shantiqua Neely, her CIS adviser at Waddell High. "She said she wanted to represent the Latino community, and she felt she had done that well."
"I want to help people," said Carranza, who spent part of last summer in Mexico, studying in a program that trains medical professionals to work at disaster sites. "That's what's important in my life."
By Steve Lyttle, The Charlotte Observer; photos by T. Ortega Gaines, The Charlotte Observer