‘I am my ancestors’ wildest dream': A.L. Brown grad wins $100,000 scholarship

KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — The 2019-2020 school year for high school seniors has been anything but ordinary, but Cayla Withers -- who just graduated from A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis -- ended it with the surprise of a lifetime.

“It was very interesting,” Withers said about her year. “Like, I never got to go to prom or had a normal graduation.”

Channel 9 began interviewing Withers as she explained the disappointments from the recent school year. She didn’t know the Zeta Phi Beta sorority planned to surprise her with a historic gift.

Withers knew she landed a spot as a scholarship finalist with her countless extracurricular activities and 4.0-grade point average. But she immediately broke down in tears in anticipation of some important news when a handful of people decked out in blue arrived in her driveway Friday morning.


“You are the winner,” the organization’s president told Withers over the phone.

Cheers erupted.

“I’m just so overwhelmed,” a college-bound Withers said.

She received $100,000, billed as the largest single scholarship given by a black Greek fraternity or sorority. It will help her continue her education at the University of Virginia in the fall, where she’ll pursue her dream of becoming an aerospace engineer at NASA.

“She’ll be the first engineer in our family, so that’s exciting,” said Withers’ mom, Sheba Cuthbertson.

Withers also lives with a skin condition that affects her organs and muscles. The weekly treatments are expensive and several hours away, depleting her family’s savings for college.

The gift was an unexpected surprise, but certainly one worth celebrating. After the announcement, dozens of sorority members from all over the state lined the street, honking and cheering in honor of the achievement.

“My family grew up picking cotton, and you know, we’ve come a long way,” Cuthbertson said.

Not only is Withers a standout student with big dreams, but she also founded the junior chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers at her alma mater.

Withers said she reminds herself of the words she wrote in her application essay months ago -- words that are just as true now as they were then.

“I am my ancestors’ wildest dream. Radiating pure beauty, strength and magic,” she said.