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Shelby Solomon of Pittsburg was selected as this year's valedictorian for Saint Mary's College in Moraga, Calif. Photographed on Wednesday, May 22, 2013. (Dan Rosenstrauch/Bay Area News Group)

It's no small accomplishment to be selected as a school's valedictorian. It's even more of an honor when you are the first in your family to graduate from college.

Count Pittsburg resident Shelby Solomon, a 21-year-old psychology major at the school, in the even-more-of-an-honor camp.

"It's honestly kind of unfathomable I may have started this precedent in my family," Solomon said in an interview before she gave her valedictorian speech on Saturday at the 150th commencement ceremony for Saint Mary's College in Moraga.

Solomon's parents -- her father has a part-time job at Home Depot and her mother works as a receptionist for the city of Concord -- have sacrificed financially and taken out loans to help her attend college. She has also financed her education with grants, scholarship money and a part-time job at the resident adviser's office.

When she learned in April she would be the valedictorian of the class of 2013, Solomon could not contain her excitement. School officials told her to hold off on telling anyone until it was official, but becoming named valedictorian is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. So she called her mother.

"I just could not believe it. I called my mother, I had to let her know. And we're just crying," said Solomon, who has a career goal of working with prison inmates as a forensic psychologist after completing a Ph.D. program at Alliant International University's California School of Professional Psychology in Fresno.


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While her SAT scores were not high enough to obtain an academic scholarship, Solomon received a scholarship through an alumni group associated with the class of 1950. At Saint Mary's, Solomon maintained a GPA of 3.94, a factor in her being named valedictorian, along with extracurricular activities and volunteer work that included working in the campus garden and building water-purification devices for third-world nations.

Born in Walnut Creek, Solomon moved to Pittsburg when she was 5 years old. She attended elementary school at Calvary Temple Christian School in Concord and high school at Contra Costa Christian Schools in Walnut Creek.

Making the change from a very small school -- there were only about 150 students at the high school -- was a bit of an adjustment for Solomon when she arrived at Saint Mary's, which has about 2,800 undergraduates.

"Coming from a school of only 150 students to Saint Mary's seemed huge to me," said Solomon, who hid out in the bathroom during her first few days to avoid talking with other students. "It was completely nerve-racking for me, and not having any friends (from high school) there. I was painfully shy."

She laughs when recalling this is not the approach to take if you are interested in studying psychology.

A professor suggested she join the Psychology Club, which opened up connections with other students and new experiences such as public speaking.

"It became so much more than a resume stuffer," said Solomon.

She also joined the school's boxing club, which is mostly made up of men. While Solomon did not get into the ring to spar, she did some boxing exercises to put herself in a place outside of her comfort zone.

"I wanted to do something outside of the box I wouldn't normally do," she said.

Contact Eve Mitchell at 925-779-7189. Follow her on Twitter.com/EastCounty_Girl.

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