She used to be told to sit in the back of the bus by classmates. Told her skin was the color of dirt. Her curls have been called “nappy” and compared to a poodle’s. But on Jan. 29, a glittering tiara graced those curls, as Gonzaga Prep senior August Corppetts was crowned Lilac queen.
It marked the first time in 25 years that the school has had a Lilac queen.
“I heard my family screaming when they called my name,” Corppetts said. “It was surreal and so amazing!”
Her speech at the coronation event centered on her experience of being bullied because of her race.
“At any school I’ve been to I faced discrimination and bullying,” she said during a recent interview. “At first, it destroyed me. You don’t realize what makes you different from your friends.”
She said people from all walks of life have made insensitive comments to her, but what especially stung was when people excused their remarks by saying they were only joking and accused her of being “too sensitive.”
“Once you hurt someone’s feelings, you can’t just decide that you didn’t,” she said.
And it wasn’t only her peers who singled her out. Even well-meaning teachers made matters worse.
“We’d watch a video on slavery, and the teacher would call on me. The under-representation of black people in the class somehow made me the representative of all black people, everywhere.”
She said middle school was the worst. When repeated incidents of bullying went unchecked, even after she reported them to the school administration, Corppetts, then 14, wrote a letter to the school board.
“I requested they take action, and they did,” she said.
Thus empowered, the teenager hasn’t backed down or shied away from speaking up for what’s right.
“It’s a matter of educating people on what’s OK to say to me,” she said. “Sometimes people just don’t know the ramifications of their words.”
At Gonzaga Prep, she dove into student leadership, currently serving as the school’s ASB president. That wasn’t the only place she found to shine.
“I did cheer in the fall and debate in the spring, all four years,” Corppetts said.
She also loves dance and enjoys golfing with her father.
For her, part of the lure of the Lilac Festival was the opportunity to become more involved in the community.
“I’m passionate about leadership and community service,” she said.
Participating in activities, like taking underprivileged kids shopping at J.C. Penney or serving dinner at the Salvation Army, have given her a broader picture of ways to be of service.
She’s relished these new connections and especially enjoys the reactions of children at Lilac events.
Recently, she and her court spread Lilac cheer at the Wandermere Fred Meyer store.
“We handed out little plastic crowns,” she said. “The little girls were so excited!”
In fact, she said she’s been so busy with events that she sometimes forgets she’s not always wearing her royal attire.
Corppetts described seeing some children while out running errands and immediately she began smiling, waving and bent down to talk to them. The kids just stared at her.
“I forgot I wasn’t wearing my crown and my sash,” she said, laughing. “We’ve all done that!”
Managing her time has been her biggest challenge since becoming part of the Lilac court. She said finding a way to prioritize when everything is important can be daunting.
Thankfully, her family offers steady support and encouragement.
“My parents tell me ‘All you can do is the best you can do,’ ” she said.
Her participation in the Lilac Festival netted her a $1,500 scholarship for making it to the royal court and an additional $1,500 for being selected queen.
She’s also one of four students from Spokane to receive a full-tuition, full-need Act Six scholarship. Act Six is a leadership development scholarship program that brings together diverse cadres of emerging urban leaders who want to use their college education to make a difference on campus and in their communities.
Corppetts will use those scholarships when she attends Gonzaga University this fall.
“I’ve wanted to go to GU ever since I was 8 years old,” she said. “I’m so excited!”
She plans to study political science and pre-law and minor in Spanish and leadership.
“I want to go on to law school,” Corppetts said. “I want to be a civil rights lawyer and stand up for people, no matter what.”
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