NORFOLK, Va. (WAVY) — Graduation season is upon us. And one student who’s earned the highest honor says she’s dedicating her achievements to a special person who couldn’t cross the stage, as she’s about to do.

“When he was going [to high school], it was called “The Factory.”  

The “Factory” was the student’s nickname for Norfolk’s Booker T. Washington High School back in the 1940s and ’50s. 

Ayana Askew says her grandfather, Sherman Askew, was in his 3rd year in 1951 when he felt a need to serve his country.

“He was actually scheduled to graduate in 1952, but he went into the Air Force.” 

Ayana says during granddad Sherman’s 5 years in the Air Force, he earned his GED. 

Sherman returned to Norfolk and worked 37 years at the U.S. Post Office. She says he worked 20 more years at Old Dominion University’s mailroom.

“He was always on time, he was always respectful, he was always kind,” Ayana said.

And, granddad was her best friend. She says he told her Booker T. Washington High was special. 

“And the idea that she’s here at my father’s alma mater, and for her to finish his race, academically, is quite rewarding,” says Ayana’s father, Mark Askew. 

Although, granddad Sherman may have been her motivator-in-chief, Ayana’s mother, Tonya Copeland, says, of her oldest of 3 daughters: “She was independent, never had to intervene with her studies.” 

Booker T. Washington High Principal Margie Hayes says the staff quickly embraced Ayana four and a half years ago when she chose Booker T. over the other Norfolk schools.

“Even as a 9th grader, [she was] always trying to figure out how she could better herself, what she could do better,” Hayes said.

“Her perseverance is crazy” said criminal justice teacher Jermaine Jackson.

“She really stood out to me, day one,” says English teacher, Tim Anderson.

“She is headstrong for sure,” says another of Ayana’s former instructors.

“This young lady will go to the ends of the earth to be successful.” says Booker T. staff member Lauren Seward. 

“I’m not surprised that she is a Gates Scholar, [and] she’s a presidential scholar,” Hayes said.

So, what’s ahead for Ayana? School resource officer Rodney Baylor said “I told her — the light is the limit. Reach for the light.” 

“My goal is to become a lawyer for the wrongfully incarcerated,” she says.

During the interview, Ayana’s youngest sister, 12-year-old Sahirah Askew, looked on with a big smile. “I’m really proud of her because I know she always wanted to go to Spellman.”

Ayana is headed to Spellman College in Atlanta this fall, where she’s planning to double major in English pre-law and theater arts. She wants attend law school.

Granddad Sherman Askew passed away in 2020, but Ayana feels his spirit will be with her on graduation day.    

“Life is so valuable. You only get a certain amount of years. You don’t know how many years you have on this earth for you to be locked up, wrongfully — that really touches my heart.  I want to do everything that I can to help.” 

Ayana will walk across the stage with the rest of the Booker T Washington Class of 2022 at Chartway Arena, Monday, June 13.