She's not shy about her grades now

Tranashea Hyman says she was “almost embarrassed” by her good grades while in middle school.

“I grew out of that,” she says.

That's fortunate, because with a 4.6 grade-point average and a Duke University scholarship worth more than $192,000, Hyman might be the most embarrassed person in Cricket Arena at her Thursday afternoon commencement exercises.

Instead, she'll collect her diploma from Phillip O. Berry Academy after these accomplishments: Senior class leader, contender for class valedictorian, and among the handful of students selected for the Duke University Scholars Program.

It means her tuition, books and room and board are paid at Duke, and she will receive $7,000 for an internship or research project – which for her will be a trip to Japan next summer to learn more about that nation's culture and business climate.

“Actually, I had planned to attend college up north,” says Hyman, 17, who had applied at Cornell, Pennsylvania and Georgetown universities. “But I'm really happy with the way things turned out.”

They didn't start that way. Her middle school years were hard.

“I didn't have a lot of friends, I was embarrassed at how well I did in school, and I was bigger than I am now,” she says.

Hyman says she lost weight, found a school she likes, and became comfortable with the person she is.

“Berry Academy has been perfect for me,” says Hyman, who attended Garinger High before transferring to the west Charlotte magnet school prior to 10th grade. She eventually became senior class president. “I have some good friends here, and I'm accepted for who I am.”

Kim Soklow, who had Hyman as a student in senior Advanced Placement English, says she is not one who is obsessed with conforming.

“She is very much an individual – in the way she dresses, the way she thinks about things,” says Soklow, Berry Academy's Teacher of the Year. “She's uniquely honest. If she does something wrong, she 'fesses up to it. If she sees someone else doing something wrong, she'll talk to them.”

Hyman listens to indie rock, prefers old TV shows like “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to current programming, and won awards for her innovative approach to the student life section of the school's yearbook.

Hyman says she plans to major in International Comparative Studies at Duke, focusing on Japan. Her interest in international studies began with a U.S. History class in 11th grade, she says.

“I had a teacher (Shonte Robinson, now working on a graduate degree at Michigan State) who opened my eyes to the world,” Hyman says. “She showed how the U.S. fits in the big world picture. I learned that many people in this country are ignorant about the rest of the world.”

An 11th-grade research project on Japan further piqued her interest.

“I'm absolutely fascinated with Japan,” she says. “I've never been there, but that's going to change. I'm planning to use the (Duke) research money to go there next summer.”

She tried to learn Japanese by purchasing a “Japanese for Dummies” book.

“But most of what I've learned are sentences like, ‘Can you pass the cigarettes?'” she says.

Hyman says her definition of a “smart” person might differ from others'.

“I have met some very intelligent people who are lazy,” she says. “To me, a ‘smart' person is someone who has a good memory and is good at doing their work.

“I have a good memory, and I think I've worked hard.”