For Elisia McKnight, whether to go to school in the morning was never a question.
“If you can put your feet on the floor, you can go to school,” her mother Shannon McKnight said.
By fourth grade, it was a habit. And on Friday, Elisia graduated with 12 years of perfect attendance – just like her mother.
It wasn’t always easy, with senior skip days and test makeup days. One day she was one of four students in class at Harding University High School.
Elisia said she was lucky to have never been sick enough to miss school, though her seasonal allergies sometimes forced her to come in with puffy eyes.
“But you were alive, that’s the thing,” Shannon McKnight said.
“You don’t have to be pretty and alive, just alive,” her father Derek McKnight added.
Elisia said her mother was her motivator. Shannon graduated from Olympic High School in 1991 with 12 years of perfect attendance as well.
“I liked school, I wasn’t like, a super nerd or anything,” Shannon said. “My friends were there, and it was something to do, so you just went.”
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools doesn’t track student attendance over the 12 years, so it’s not clear how many other students reach the same milestone.
Shannon said she thinks it’s harder for kids to be motivated to stay in school today, because they can stay connected to their friends through texting and social media. Now, she said, kids can see how much fun their peers who aren’t in school are having.
“If there’s a pool party at 12 o’clock the last week of school, but it’s not the end of school yet and you see it on Instagram, you want to be there,” she said.
But more often than not, Elisia was glad to be in class.
“More than seeing my friends every day, I also liked going to see my teachers and other faculty members, because they always kept me in the loop of what they were doing,” she said. “We had great relationships within the school, so I always had somebody to talk to.”
The best days, she said, were when teachers and faculty would invite her to events she wouldn’t have known about otherwise. That’s how she was introduced to opportunities in Communities In Schools, a dropout prevention organization, and ended up receiving a scholarship through it.
“Look forward to the next day, because you never know what’s going to happen,” she said. “You never know what someone can offer you.”
Elisia will attend Appalachian State University in the fall, where she hopes to study mass communications. Does she plan to keep up perfect attendance in college?
“I’m gonna try my hardest,” she said, laughing. “It’s habit now, so why not?”
Rachel Herzog: 704-358-5358