Notable Teens: Student Success Stories

Clancy Larmour

Written by Lea Hart

Clancy Larmour graduated from Cary High School in June and plans to study biochemistry and microbiology at N.C. State, following his passion for mushrooms.

On the surface, Clancy Larmour might look like a typically successful high school graduate. He graduated in the top 10 percent of his class at Cary High School this spring; he’s an Eagle Scout; and he’s a speech and debate competition winner.

Dig a little deeper though, and it really gets interesting.

Clancy Larmour serves food at a fundraiser for the N.C. Restaurant and Lodging Association. Contributed photo.

Larmour is fascinated by mushrooms. He makes Japanese street food to kick back and relax. And he was part of Cary High’s Culinary Arts competition team.

He found these passions at Cary High, and gives credit to the school and its Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.

“The breadth of things you can do at Cary High was probably most impactful for me,” he said. “You can experiment with what you like and don’t like.

“I hit it on the first try – I got involved with (agriculture) and discovered my love of mushrooms. But there’s always another avenue to go down, if you don’t find the right thing at first.”

So why mushrooms? Larmour says they’re everywhere and yet there’s mystery to them, noting there’s still a lot to learn about how they grow.

“They’re sort of omnipresent – there’s yeast and other microbes in the air. We eat mushrooms,” he said. “At the same time, they’re very enigmatic.”

They’re also great in recipes, though his love of cooking precedes his love of mushrooms. His mom is of Thai descent, and he remembers, from a very young age, wanting to cook like her.

“I love the catharsis of cooking,” he said. “There’s all of these steps to cooking and making what I want to eat – you put in the work but then, just being able to eat it and enjoy it.”

Clancy sits next to a large maitake mushroom cluster in 2018. The fungus is also known as “hen-of-the-woods” and is considered a superfood for its health benefits. Contributed photo.

His involvement with the FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) at Cary High School, where he became president of the chapter, combined his love of agriculture and love of food.

“At FFA, we love to feed you,” Larmour said with a laugh.

Larmour took a number of Advanced Placement courses at Cary High as well, culminating with the AP Capstone Project, which involves two year-long AP courses – AP Seminar and AP Research – in which the student pursues his or her own research project.

Members of Cary High’s FFA group attend the 2019 FFA Convention at the Raleigh Convention Center. Contributed photo.

His research, as one might guess, focused on mushrooms. Larmour learned that when big wildfires burn manmade structures that aren’t meant to burn, they can leave toxins in the soil.

“My project aimed to see if oyster mushrooms could grow in the soil and help fix the soil,” he said.

Cary High teacher James Banyas, noted Larmour’s research outcomes were well above expectations.

“Clancy is generally more curious than his peers,” Banyas said. “He appreciates the challenge of engaging in rigorous thought processes such as proof.”

But it’s not all academic with Larmour, Banyas says.

“He is funny and witty, genuine – a good soul who cares about others,” he said.

Born in Santa Monica, Calif., Larmour moved with his family to Cary before kindergarten and lives with his dad and his younger sister. His mom and her husband aren’t too far away, in the southern part of the state. He recently became a big brother for the second time when his mom had a baby boy last year.

Like most of his peers, the COVID-19 pandemic presented challenges during the end of his junior and much of his senior year, and his family was directly impacted. His mom was diagnosed with COVID while she was pregnant, even needing to be intubated for a time before recovering.

Clancy Larmour peeks from behind blocks of oyster mushroom at Fox Farm & Forage in early 2020. The teen worked on a project for his AP Research class at the Apex business. Contributed photo.

His dad is in his 70s and had a recent stroke, both of which put him in the high-risk category. Because of that, Larmour stuck close to home for much of the pandemic.

“When my dad got vaccinated, it was a huge weight off my shoulders,” he said. “For most of the pandemic, I didn’t go anywhere, but I’m lucky that the online scene meant I could still talk and play video games with friends.”

Like most things in his life, he treated it as a learning experience.

Clancy Larmour established a pollinator garden for his Eagle Scout project. Contributed photo.

“Learning from bad situations is a way to make future situations less bad,” Larmour said. “If you don’t learn from the past, you’re doomed to repeat it.”

Looking ahead, his future looks bright. He’s enrolling at North Carolina State University this fall and plans to keep pursuing his passion for mushrooms. He plans to study biochemistry and microbiology, and potentially food science as well. While he says he’s one of those people who can’t say yet where he wants to be in 10 years, he hopes his work will involve research and mushrooms.

Banyas feels confident that Larmour will accomplish whatever he sets his mind to.

“Clancy will go on to do great things, I know it,” he said.

Ji’raa Alston

Written by Amber Keister

Ji’raa Alston graduated from Apex High School in June and begins at N.C. State this month.

Those who know her describe Ji’raa Alston as resilient, disciplined and compassionate — qualities that have been honed by her nomadic upbringing and a pandemic year.

The Apex teen’s father is a former professional football player, and she has lived in South Carolina; Washington, D.C.; Seattle; Germany; Canada and North Carolina. After football, Jonathan Alston’s subsequent career in regional sales meant more moves for his family. Ji’raa Alston attended three different high schools before graduating with honors from Apex High School in June.

“Just moving around a lot, it can take a lot out of you, and it can just be kind of tough to adapt to the new environment,” said Ji’raa Alston, 18. “But throughout all the obstacles of moving, I’ve always made sure to remain true to myself and always adapt, no matter what.”

Ji’raa Alston sits in a football stadium in Cologne, Germany, before the game begins. Jonathan Alston, Ji’raa’s father, played as an offensive lineman for the Cologne Centurians. Contributed photo.

In her freshman year at Apex Friendship, playing JV basketball helped. During her sophomore year in the Charlotte area, her first job provided a confidence boost. When the family returned to the Triangle in 2019, before Ji’raa Alston’s junior year, clubs helped her make friends at Apex High School.

She joined the Apex Youth Leadership Club and the African American Students Association, becoming vice president of the latter group in her senior year. At the same time, she served on the school’s Equity Team.

“I’ve always gone to predominantly white schools for as long as I can remember. I might not always have somebody who looks like me in my class,” Ji’raa Alston said, explaining that being the only Black student in class can get uncomfortable.

“Then I think about our African American Student Association. that for me, that’s the safe space for me, and just being able to be around people who look like me and understand my experience.”

The Alston family, Jonathan, Neka and Ji’raa pose for a photo after a football game in Cologne, Germany. Contributed photo.

These clubs and the relationships they fostered became pivotal for Ji’raa Alston and her fellow students. The pandemic end to the 2019-2020 school year was disruptive enough. Then came George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter protests. The officers of the African American Student Association met over the summer, knowing that the upcoming school year would be challenging for the group’s members.

“I just knew that over the summer with all the different protests going on, I knew a lot of students would want a safe space to just say their opinions and speak on the things that we all cared about,” Ji’raa Alston said.

Neka Alston poses with her children Jonah, left, and Ji’raa, right, in a photo taken for the nonprofit that Neka Alston established, the Beyond Now Foundation, The organization aims to promote a love of learning and to advocate for marginalized students. Contributed photo.

The club’s virtual meetings became a safe space, not just to discuss the protests, but for students to talk about the anxiety, stress and isolation they were feeling. Between meetings, the teens supported each other through frequent text messages.

“We were trying to make sure that everybody understood, you can go out and advocate, but you also have to make sure that you stay up-to-date with your own mental health and make sure you take care of yourself. So while you’re out here trying to help the world, make sure you also help yourself,” Ji’raa Alston said.

Many of her fellow students depended on that safe space, she says, especially because many were reluctant to discuss their struggles at home.

“I’ve realized just how much mental health is such a taboo topic within the Black community,” Alston said. “And I’ve seen how my friends around me have had to deal with their issues.”

The modest teenager seems reluctant to detail her accomplishments, but others are eager to sing her praises.

“She has been an awesome senior leader in a few of our clubs even through the pandemic,” said Andrew Hill, assistant principal at Apex High School. “She is everything that we hope our students can be.”

Ji’raa Alston will attend N.C. State University this fall, planning to study psychology or social work so she can continue helping others. She also says she might like to study computer science.

Ji’raa and her brother Jonah became even closer during the pandemic. “I have a great family. They’re just amazing,” she says. Contributed photo.

The teen combined her two interests last year, helping her grandfather, who is the pastor of a small church in South Carolina. During the pandemic, he wasn’t able to hold onsite services, says Renee Alston, Ji’raa’s aunt. Her niece organized the virtual church services and provided technical help from her home in Apex.

“She was instrumental in helping with the Zoom services and communicating the information to the church members, so that they were able to log on to the Zoom services,” said Renee Alston, who lives in Atlanta.

“That’s awesome to me, because she’s so young and was able to just walk people through that, people who were old enough to be her parents or grandparents. And they were actually able to understand it and do it.”

Since she was small, the teenager has been unusually caring and generous, always smiling and looking for ways to help others, her aunt says.

“She’s always very concerned about others, and if she sees you in need, she’s going to do whatever she can to help,” she said. “She’s always that person who is going to think about what is in the best interest of the people involved, not just herself.”

Joshua Fletcher

Written by Jack Frederick

Panther Creek grad Joshua Fletcher earned a full scholarship to attend North Carolina A&T State University, where he plans to study Food and Nutritional Science.

Navigating the unprecedented challenges of completing high school during a pandemic proved to be no small accomplishment for Joshua Fletcher.

Amid an impressive resume, learning to prioritize his own mental health became a key part of the 2021 Panther Creek alumnus’ final stretch of high school.

“I initially failed at prioritizing my mental health,” Fletcher admitted via email. “Since I did not take action to mend myself, I became comfortable with feeling worthless. Isolation made me accustomed to masking myself, causing me to live a lie in front of my family, peers and teachers.”

Due to mental health reasons, Fletcher asked that he be allowed to write his responses to interview questions.

“For Black youth, in order for us to begin loving ourselves, we need to stop being comfortable with having saltwater down our throats. Stoicism has never been cool,” he wrote.

The beginning of the pandemic marked a mental peak for Fletcher, he wrote. He challenged himself during virtual classes, earning high marks on the path to graduating summa cum laude. His work earned him the Cheatham-White Merit Scholarship, a four-year full-ride scholarship to North Carolina A&T State University, where he plans to major in Food and Nutritional Sciences.

“Responding to this year’s social climate, record numbers of African Americans have applied or enrolled at HBCUs across the nation,” Fletcher wrote. “I would have regretted not being a part of this class of Aggies and growing with a community rich in color and history.”

Joshua Fletcher, wearing number 56, and the Panther Creek Catamounts play the Athens Drive Jaguars. With Fletcher playing center, Panther Creek finished the regular season undefeated. Contributed photo.

Fletcher also stepped up to help at home. While his mother, Dr. Jamila Fletcher, a pediatrician, was on the healthcare frontlines administering COVID-19 testing, Joshua Fletcher often helped his 8-year-old brother, Ezra, with his schoolwork. The two brothers worked at the dining room table nearly every day, growing closer as they worked out problems together.

“It just amazes me that he rose to the challenge and didn’t shy away from hard work in the pandemic,” Jamila Fletcher said. “I tell everyone this: He was my lifesaver.”

Sports as therapy

As the pandemic wore on, it weighed on Fletcher’s mental health, and he retreated into isolation. After many difficult months, he decided to play football again, which proved to be a much-needed bright spot.

Contributed photo.

Fletcher quit football as a junior, but returned as a senior to anchor the Catamounts’ inexperienced offensive line. He worked out twice a day all summer, gaining more than 30 pounds to return to playing shape.

“I just swallowed everything that was going wrong in my life and just said, ‘I’m going to make football the one positive thing,’ and we were able to make that happen,” Fletcher said in an audio recording sent via email.

With Fletcher playing center, Panther Creek finished the regular season undefeated, making the second round of the NCHSAA 4-AA playoffs. Fletcher served as a captain in two of his team’s biggest games. After the season, he was recognized with the team’s Offensive Trenches Award.

“With the offensive line, we went through a lot,” Fletcher said. “To finish the regular season undefeated and to get to the second round of the playoffs, it meant everything to me.”

Eclectic interests

Fueled by insatiable curiosity and eclectic interests, Fletcher is a teen with many passions, which he connects through writing.

“He excels in all of those areas that he has an interest in,” said Melvin Blackwell, a Panther Creek counselor and Fletcher’s mentor. “If he’s interested in something, he is going to research and learn as much about it as he can, and give it his best.”

Fletcher writes poetry, short stories and essays. He has also recorded three original rap songs that explore his Black identity, depression and future. Recorded under the name ‘Puffy Joshua,’ the music can be found on SoundCloud and Spotify.

“I was drawn to rap because it presented itself to me like a dreamscape, granting a space where anything could happen and express myself without tension, establishing some sense of understanding for what happened to/around me along the way,” Fletcher wrote.

In his free time, Fletcher also researches topics that interest him — diving deep into subjects like neuroscience, space and gastronomy.

“To me, from a self-fulfillment lens, writing has become the life source for my passions,” Fletcher wrote. “No matter how entranced I will be under my endeavors, it is the thrill of typing an essay after months of research and chronicling the impact of my service projects that keep me going. I write until I am whole.”

For a time, Fletcher’s various passions stood in the way of settling on a career he might want to go after. Currently, his professional goals combine many of those interests.

“With an increased dedication to nutrition and culture, I aim to utilize food and nutritional science to help my community and other cultures develop their nutritional literacy — nutritional anthropology coupled with mutual aid and community building,” Fletcher wrote.

1 Comment

  • Rhonda says:

    What a wonderful article. Heartfelt congratulations to following your dreams, changing the world, and openly sharing your experiences. As John Paul Jones said, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.

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