‘What motivates you?’: Valedictorian inspires others, holds on to mother’s legacy

‘What motivates you?’: Valedictorian inspires through others, holds on to mother’s legacy

CHARLES CITY, Va. (WWBT) - A Charles City High School graduate is inspiring others by sharing a part of his life that he normally keeps quiet.

Jason Brown is the valedictorian of the class of 2019 and headed to college with more than $400,000 in scholarships. Brown graduated with a 4.2 GPA, has gotten all As his entire academic career and will attend Tufts University.

As he reflects on his accomplishments, and what is still to come, Brown posed a single question to his peers on graduation day: “What motivates you?”

“I never really thought about it before. Is it music? Is it political things? Or is it something closer to me?” Brown said.

The 18-year-old is a talented artist who plans to study engineering, but wants anything he does in life to include art.

Jason Brown used his valedictory address to try to inspire his classmates and help them find their motivation.
Jason Brown used his valedictory address to try to inspire his classmates and help them find their motivation. (Source: NBC12)

When thinking about his motivation, Brown said he took a look around his home.

“I can’t believe it took that look to figure it out,” Brown said. “I was walking around the house and there were pictures of her all around the house that’s why I’m like, why did it take me so long?”

At just 19 months old, Jason lost his mother, Erinn Wooden, to gun violence in the Richmond.

“I remember the day,” Mary Wooden, Erinn Wooden’s mother and Brown’s grandmother, said. “She went to Richmond on this first date and I told her that her daddy and I didn’t want her to go. She said, ‘Ma, I’ll be alright.’ She never came back.”

Erinn Wooden was an accomplished student at Charles City High School. She graduated a year early with plans to become a nurse practitioner.

She was killed in a drive-by shooting.

Mary Wooden, Jason’s grandmother stepped in to raise him.

“I don’t know how she did it,” said Jason. “I am grateful, like really grateful, because the alternative would not have been what I wanted.”

Wooden says she was proud of her daughter Erinn and sees so much of her in Jason.

“I stepped up to the plate and did what I was supposed to do, no questions asked,” said Wooden. “I made sure he had everything he needed--I am just so proud."

Jason says it has taken an entire village of family members to help him succeed. Carrying his mother’s legacy with him, has continued to be an inspiration as well.

“So yes, what motives me, my mother,” Jason said in his valedictorian speech.

Jason was met with a standing ovation after telling Erinn Wooden’s story on graduation day and eventually revealing that Wooden was his mother.

“I know the good things she was about to do had she lived the life she was going to. I said to myself, well she’s not here to do it and the only thing she left behind really that meant any value is me," said Jason. “I have to take up the mantle and finish the life she wasn’t able to.”

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