This story was first published Oct. 23, 2011.
Beneath Friday night lights at Garinger High School, senior Elexus White fidgets with her multicolored rhinestone ring, waiting to hear who has won the vote for homecoming queen.
She links arms with her uncle, Jarrett Peake, who surprised her at the gates just before the game, arriving in time to be her escort. They have taken their place on the field with the rest of the homecoming court as halftime begins.
Elexus is the classic hard worker. She is an employee, an athlete, a student, a charitable giver and a journalist. Her seasons are filled with catching public transportation to three part-time jobs. In the summer, she works at Subway, and throughout the school year she works at Food Lion and Moe’s.
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Elexus freezes when she hears the announcer call her name as queen. Her godsister, Tynesha Lias, who graduated from Garinger last year, cries and cheers from the bleachers.
Minutes after Elexus was crowned and players ran back onto the field, a man was shot in the parking lot. Police have said no Garinger students were identified in the shooting, the second in two years at the northeast Charlotte school’s homecoming game.
A few weeks after the 2010 homecoming shooting, students were arrested after a melee. For years, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has given special support to Garinger.
Clevonne Manigott, a Garinger guidance counselor, worries about the assumptions the shooting might create about the school. Manigott attended this year’s game with her 3- and 5-year-olds and saw and heard nothing. “There are so many good things going on here, “ she said. “There are so many kids doing good things and going to college.”
Elexus transferred to Garinger two years ago from Harding University High. CMS had stopped bus service from her home to Harding. “Garinger was an easier option, “ Elexus said.
“When I got there, I needed to take charge. Garinger is not a school filled with hoodlums and criminals. We have smart kids who want to make a difference and go somewhere in life.”
Focused on her goals
“She has big goals, “ Lias said, “and she does anything to get there. She knows what she has to do.”
The past two years, as the holidays approached, Elexus has organized clothing drives and helped plan homecoming. Last year, she collected 12 bags of clothes at Garinger, where more than 80 percent of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, to donate to Charlotte Rescue Mission.
The spring is reserved for starting at goalie for Garinger’s varsity soccer team, and each day she does the school’s announcements.
“Elexus always has an energetic and positive attitude, which speaks volumes to her peers, “ said soccer coach Katherine Hill.
When Elexus first started playing soccer last spring, Hill said, it was a difficult and new challenge. But she was persistent and worked hard on the field.
Dreaming of Ohio State
Elexus is also determined to go to college, preferably Ohio State.
She has wanted to go there ever since her first year of high school. She noticed her family - none of whom went to the Big Ten sports powerhouse - had lots of Ohio State memorabilia. Research on the school convinced her: She had to get in.
So when she started at Garinger her junior year, she began to work closely with college adviser Brandon Carter. He helped Elexus register for the SAT, and advised her on what colleges seek.
Elexus then threw herself into every project she could get her hands on - a blog, part-time jobs, sports and academics, all while maintaining a 3.0 GPA. She began a fan blog for Ohio State basketball power forward Jared Sullinger, a 2012 NBA draft prospect. He knows about it; he follows her on Twitter. She also blogs about Ohio State football and general news on the school.
This summer, she had a moment that solidified her desire to become a Buckeye. On a rare play day, splashing in the wave pool at Carowinds, a girl standing next to Elexus panicked when a large wave came rushing her way. The girl grabbed Elexus’ suit, pulling her underwater so long that she thought she might black out. It was at that moment, she said, she saw what she thought was the last image she’d ever see: the Ohio State logo.
After that, she started her application essay early, so she’d have time to revise, with Carter’s help. The topic: What are you most looking forward to about college? Her answer: Laundry.
She wanted to be creative, yet convey that doing that chore would make her feel independent. “The good thing about Elexus, “ said Carter, “is she has a very infectious sense of humor, but she also knows when it’s time to get serious.”
TV news internship
She wants to one day work in television news, so last November, she interned with Fox News Charlotte. Elexus said she conducted interviews, learning about the industry and how to craft a news story.
“I have worked in retail and I work in food, and because of Fox Charlotte, I know I want my degree, “ she said. “My dreams of attending Ohio State and becoming a news reporter are not spur-of-the-moment things. I have to work hard to get to those points.”
This year, she is on the senior advisory board and is helping to plan a potential trip for Garinger seniors in the spring. If the trip is approved, this will be the school’s first senior trip in years, she said.
“(Elexus) has a very strong drive and is goal-oriented, “ said principal Kondra Rattley. “I have definitely seen her grow.”
She is also running for student body president.
“I’m so determined to make it out, to become more, “ Elexus said. “I have plans. I have stuff to do.”
Story behind the story
I had been working on Elexus’ story for several weeks before Garinger’s homecoming. I left moments before the shooting. Elexus called me that night to tell me about it. Colleague Cleve Wootson quoted her in his follow-up story: “We have future leaders at this school. People don’t see that.” Brittany Penland
Loves: improvisational acting.
Says: she’s read every Harry Potter book at least nine times.
Favorite TV show: “True Blood.”
Three things someone should always carry: “A pen, because you never know when you’ll need to write something down; lip gloss, because I don’t like chapped lips; and a conscience because you need to know the difference between right and wrong.”
Advice to kids who are juggling multiple things: “You have to know your limits. Having multiple jobs and participating in school is not for everyone. If you don’t know your limits, you could spread yourself too thin or burn out.”
One thing worth remembering in tough times: “One day, I’m going to look back on all of the trials and tribulations, in my multimillion-dollar mansion, and laugh.”