When Allure Dyer delivers the valedictorian speech for Julian High School during a virtual graduation next week, she will tell a story of transformation.
Four years ago, when she first enrolled at Julian, it wasn’t where she wanted to land. She had hoped to bypass her Far South Side neighborhood high school, but didn’t get any other offers in Chicago Public Schools’ choice-based high school admissions system.
But now, Dyer describes Julian as a place of opportunity where she found loving and caring teachers.
Her teachers say it’s been exciting to watch her blossom.
“Teachers geek out over Dyer,” said Katherine Whitington, one of Dyer’s teachers. “When there are amazing students, teachers will do anything and everything to give them a platform.”
Dyer credits Julian for helping her build her confidence, giving her a chance to pursue her passion for community service and helping her earn a full scholarship to Western Illinois University.
Making Julian home
When she was in eighth grade, Dyer was looking beyond Julian for high school.
Julian is poorly rated — the school district gives it its second lowest rating — and has seen its student population decline in recent years.
But Dyer said her grades were not good in elementary school, and she did not get offers from other high schools. She said she struggled because she lacked confidence.
“I didn't think I was capable of learning a lot of things,” she said. “It was hard for me, like in math and in science, I wasn't able to comprehend the work. And even though I could have asked my teachers for help, I was really shy. I didn't really talk to people. I just kept to myself and didn't want to step outside the box and try new things.”
Dyer, the youngest of eight children, said her parents advised her to just go to Julian and do what she needed to do.
Then, something surprising happened. When Dyer was faced with a hard assignment her freshman year, instead of staying quiet and giving up, she started asking questions. She discovered it helped — and that it was not so scary after all. Suddenly, she started doing better in school.
“My counselor came up to me, he was like, `Hey, No. 1 student,’ and I didn't know he was talking to me,” Dyer said. “I was doing what I needed to do in school, but I did not know I was No. 1.”
Since then, she said she made it her mission to keep up her grades and her No. 1 spot.
On top of getting better grades, Dyer got involved with Project Soapbox, a public speaking competition. She said she was nervous, but wanted to talk about gun violence in her community and was looking for a forum.
“I talked about how we need to stop it, and get rid of it, because it's such a huge deal,” Dyer said. “I am very passionate about it.”
Dyer said she was inspired by the many stories she heard of people who have lost loved ones.
Her first speech had her stuttering and stammering, but as people started snapping and clapping to show appreciation, she said her confidence grew. At Julian, she got involved in several student organizations, eventually becoming the leader of a student voice committee and the National Honor Society.
She was even chosen to introduce Mayor Lori Lightfoot when she came to Julian to announce a summer jobs program. And she participated in a program that took her to London and Paris.
Dyer said in retrospect she is glad that she ended up at Julian High School.
“I've gained so much confidence since eighth grade,” she said. “And I think it was better to go within my neighborhood because now I feel more connected to my community and am more aware of the things that are happening around me.”