Atlanta high school valedictorian overcomes adversity after not being able to speak English

ATLANTA — A teen from northwest Atlanta just graduated at the top of her high school class and is a role model like no other.

Channel 2’s Berndt Petersen was at the Coretta Scott King Academy, where he learned the teen started kindergarten and didn’t know how to speak English.

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Karen Gamez-Amador says it’s never about where you start. It’s about where you finish.

“When I first started I remember coming home frustrated and crying because I couldn’t understand what others were saying,” Gamez-Amador said.

Gamez-Amador just graduated from the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy. But when she first attended Atlanta Public Schools back in kindergarten, she did not know how to speak English.


“It’s hard for me to just say it without tears forming in my eyes because I’m so proud of Karen. Karen has a level of fervor for learning that is like nothing I’ve ever seen,” Leadership Academy Principal Eulonda Washington said.

As Gamez-Amador learned how to speak, read, and write the language, she’d get home from school and teach her parents---who emigrated from Honduras. 

“Look at where we are now,” Gamez-Amador exclaimed.

Words from her recent speech to her school’s class of 2023. She is the Coretta Scott King Academy’s valedictorian.  She’s fluent in English, Spanish, and very soon French.

“You are leading the way for so many. I’m so proud of you,” Washington told her.

“Believe in yourself. If you know you can do something, go ahead and do it. Not only will it continue to open doors for you, they are stepping stones for something bigger,” Gamez-Amador said.

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Gamez-Amador will be off to the University of Alabama Birmingham where she will major in biological sciences. She plans to become a crime scene investigator.