Victorita Paun’s first name may mean “little victory,” but Saturday the Voorhees College co-ed will claim a big victory — being named the first non-Black valedictorian in the historically Black institution’s 112-year history.
Paun, an accounting major with a perfect 4.0 grade point average, hails from Bucharest, Romania.
“She’s an outstanding student; smart and willing to work hard,” notes Paun’s accounting professor Dr. David Caslan. “She’s the kind of student who jumps right in and does what needs to be done. She truly deserves this honor.”
Though proud of her success, Paun says she’s taking her latest accolade in stride.
“I always knew in the back of my mind this is what I wanted,” she says. “I always like to be the best at what I do. I just kept looking at my transcript and knew I had to keep the A’s coming.”
Caslan says Paun had earned such a reputation for academic excellence at the Denmark, S.C., school that she literally became a reference for other students.
“When they turned in their homework they would tell me ‘I checked it with Victorita Paun and she said it was OK,’” notes Caslan.
Paun first learned of the four-year liberal arts college through Voorhees history professor, Dr. Leland Barrows, who served on the board of directors of her Romanian high school. Paun kept in touch with Barrows and he recruited her to Voorhees once she graduated.
“He mentioned that it was very family oriented and had a nurturing environment and that’s what really attracted me because I knew I’d be far away from home,” she says. “He also told me about the rigorous curriculum and the (13-to-1) student/teacher ratio. I knew that would allow more one-on-one relationships with my professors.”
Heading to America was change enough, but attending a historically Black college was an especially foreign concept for Paun, whose exposure to African-American culture had been limited to movies, namely the “Sister Act” films starring Whoopi Goldberg.
“The population of Africans and African-Americans is pretty small in Romania, so the prospect of attending an all-Black college had never crossed my mind,” she says. “But I was always intrigued by American culture. I always liked the culture and friendliness of the African-American community that I saw in the movies.”
Admittedly there was a bit of a transition period, but Paun says she adjusted fairly quickly to American campus life and Southern culture, particularly the American diet.
“I’m addicted to hot wings,” quips Paun, 22. “We have fried wings in Romania but not with hot sauce all over them. They’re so good. I love French fries too!”
Noting the slow pace of life in the South, she says, “In Romania I was used to everything being fast-paced, everything here is slow-paced. Here I can relax.”
Her idea of relaxing is unique. Since freshman year she was active in various campus organizations including the concert choir, Honors College, Alpha Kappa Mu Honor Society and the International Student Association. Somehow she also found time to pledge a sorority. Since joining Zeta Phi Beta Inc. she also has learned to “step,” a term used to describe a synchronized dance style performed mostly by African-American Greek organizations.
“It was kind of difficult for me at first,” she says. “I had danced before but never stomped. Last year we won the step show [competition] and I was very proud.”
Her biggest honor to date though, she says, was traveling to Washington, D.C., in January to take part in President Barack Obama’s inaugural festivities. Paun served as captain of the school’s first-ever debate team during the Inauguration Debate Series at the Smithsonian Institution. The competition was part of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities to reconstruct speech and debate teams at HBCUs.
“I don’t have words to describe that experience; I never thought I’d be a part of history,” she says.
After graduation Paun has her sights set on attending graduate school. She has already been accepted into Bowling Green State University but she’s still awaiting word from Harvard University and the University of Rochester.
For now she’s looking forward to spending graduation day with her mother, whom she had not seen since the Winter holiday break.
“It’s going to be great,” she says.
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