High school signing parties are often centered around sports, but for one Muskogee senior, it was all about brains.
Raylynn Thompson, a soon-to-be valedictorian who was told black people couldn't hold such a title, announced her college of choice before a gathering of friends and family on Saturday.
The 18-year-old stood in a room decorated with promotional banners from the more than 62 universities she was accepted to and answered yes or no questions from the crowd in a guessing game.
"Are you leaving the state?" one asked.
"Does it start with the letter 'L'?" another questioned.
The big reveal came when she released balloons from a box labeled "The Chosen One" and a university pennant floated out: Alcorn State University.
The room erupted into cheers and bellows of "A-S-U."
"This is probably one of the best decisions I've ever made," Thompson told the crowd, adding that the historically black college in Mississippi is seven hours away from her friends and family.
"I love you guys, but we got to go," she said.
Thompson plans to study biology with honors on a pre-professional track in hope of one day pursuing a career in neonatology, which focuses on care for ill or premature newborns. The track was one reason she chose the university, but she said the main draw was the institution's offer of a free college education, including tuition, books and fees.
Fellow graduates and family members convened around tables over a barbecue dinner, one Thompson's mother, Lori Thompson, said was also free. Rib Crib in Muskogee found out about Raylynn in a news story, and when she called for price quote, they offered to cater for free, she said.
Lori expressed pride in her daughter, who is currently No. 1 of a class of 328 students, and commended her for proving the naysayers wrong.
At least a year ago, a woman not affiliated with the school district approached Thompson at a store. She told her that black people can’t be valedictorians, Thompson said.
Thompson extended an invitation to the woman for her graduation in a Tulsa World article on Friday.
“If you say I can’t do something, I’m going to go ahead and do it just to prove you wrong," Thompson said. "I’m not going to let your words define me.”
Tulsa World editor Anna Codutti contributed reporting from Muskogee.