NEW YORK - At just 19-years-old, Cody Baynori is well on the way to living his dreams.
The 2019 Newport valedictorian is studying political science and English on a full scholarship at prestigious Columbia University in New York City.
He is living on the upper West Side of New York, one of the most desirable and vibrant neighborhoods in the most famous city in the world.
And he is working on not one but two political campaigns, providing tremendous opportunities for someone who eventually wants to work in politics.
"All of its happening," Cody said, "because of what I learned in Newport."
Cody left a legacy of achievement, tenacity and inspiration during his years growing up and attending school in Newport.
In addition to finishing at the top of his class, Cody was a Governor's Scholar, scored perfect on the English portion of the ACT, competed in a statewide poetry competition, was a member of the bowling team and performed in theater, including landing the lead in Newport High School's production of Footloose and appearing in The Music Man, Shrek and others.
Like many high achievers, Cody also found time to serve in a number of organizations, including The Regional Youth Leadership program through the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, The Student Technology Leadership Program, the Young Democrats and GLSEN, which works to ensure that LGBTQ students are able to learn and grow free from bullying and harassment.
While recently visiting his home town, Cody was presented a $500 Chester Davis Scholarship from the Newport Independent Schools.
"I am very thankful for the scholarship," he said. "When you are a college student, especially in a place like New York, every little bit helps."
Newport Independent Schools Superintendent Tony Watts said the entire district is proud of Cody.
"Cody's hard work, determination, and tenacity have made him the person and student he is today," Superintendent Watts said. "He could have easily given up and listened to all of the outside noise about being a Newport student. He has shown that you can do or be whatever you want in life”.
"All you have to do is believe in yourself and never give up," he said. "Cody is a true testament to one of my favorite sayings, 'You have to believe to achieve'. He has achieved and is on his way to accomplishing all his goals and aspirations. The best part of all is he is a Newport Wildcat!
What makes Cody's story even more inspiring is the fact that life wasn't always easy while he was growing up. He spoke about overcoming his own personal struggles and those of some of his classmates in a stirring valedictorian speech that has been viewed more than 1,000 times on YouTube.
"Some of us know what is like to be poor, or without both of our parents, or stressed, anxious, depressed, or not even knowing where our next meal will come from," he said. "We have made each other who we are. We are all Newport students, and there are so many things that go into making a Newport students”.
"We claw our way to accomplishment. We stand our ground and speak our mind. We draw attention and make change," he said. "And when people try to discredit us, compare us and knock us down, we prove them wrong every single time."
Rather than dwell on or be held back by difficult circumstances, Cody had the fortitude to rise above his circumstances.
"I look back at growing up, and while there were some difficult times, I very much loved going to the Newport schools," he said. "It prepared me for life. Newport is such a unique school. I learned a lot from the teachers, but also from my peers and the students around me. Attending Newport schools made me the person I am."
Cody loves the energy and excitement of New York City, though due to the COVID-19 pandemic he was recently quarantined in his apartment for two weeks after returning to the city from Kentucky.
"There is a great energy here," Cody said. "And people here are interested in hearing about Newport and Kentucky as a whole. They think it is interesting that Newport is part of the Cincinnati urban area, but also that you can be in the middle of the country in a half-hour."
Attending Columbia is "amazing", Cody said. He loves his professors and classmates. And as a political science major working on the campaigns of Kentucky U.S. Senate candidate Amy McGrath and statehouse candidate Nancy Bardett, who is running in a Campbell County legislative district, he enjoys the political banter and debates in class and on campus.
"In New York," he said with a laugh, "people aren't afraid to talk about politics!"