Ashley Graham says she’s always been “a little different” — and lately that’s worked in her favor.
In her first year as a welding student at the Center for Advanced Technical Studies (The Center) with just a few months of experience, she won second place in a statewide welding competition. Last spring, Graham turned heads at prom when she wore a dress she made out of duct tape as part of a national scholarship contest. And in her welding class, where she is the only female student, instructors say Graham has influenced her peers to fuse art into metal design.
Despite the accolades over her creations, the Lexington-Richland 5 honor student who attends Chapin High and The Center says she’s been taken aback by the attention.
Graham will model her dress and be recognized during a school board meeting Sept. 9.
“I’m honestly surprised. I knew that I had some unique interests and projects, but I didn’t think it would be something of interest to anyone else,” Graham said. “Since elementary school, I’ve had an interest in art. So, it’s really just a trial and error with my sculptures and different projects — just basic design principals and what would be the best way to create something that was likeable. That just comes from trial and error of different art projects, I guess.”
Graham’s learning curve has been extraordinary, said George Brown, a Welding Instructor at The Center who watched Graham bring her winning welding project from concept to three-dimensional design.
“Ashley has an amazing ability to bring her interest in art into her welding projects, and her attention for detail and presentation skills really helped her win second place in the Skills USA state competition,” Brown said. “She was a first year student, beating out high school and college students that had been welding for a lot longer. That really says something about her skills … She has real talent.”
For her award-winning sculpture, Graham designed a Loggerhead turtle. “I went with the turtle because that’s what I’m best at rendering. My dream career would be to become a sea turtle marine biologist working at an aquarium or at the beach. Plus, it’s our state reptile so I thought maybe something South Carolina-related.”
The idea for the duct tape dress came on a whim, she said. “My English teacher was telling the class about scholarships and mentioned the (Duck Brand “Stuck At Prom”) duct tape scholarship contest,” Graham said. “The class had a good laugh about it and we all thought ‘that’s silly. That’s really silly.’ But to me, I thought it might be kind of funny and a way to amuse my friends, and I decided to enter it. And, yeah, my friends were definitely amused.”
Will she enter the duct tape contest again? “I still have some left over tape. So, I could” Graham said.
With regard to welding: “I’m definitely going to try to get better,” she added.
Submitted by Lexington-Richland 5