To help out her family, Makila Ballard started working at a young age.
In ninth grade, that meant dressing up as Disney characters and performing at children’s parties. Now, as a soon-to-be high school graduate, she works at a fast-food restaurant. During a typical week, the 18-year-old picks up several shifts after class. On the weekends, she often works long days.
“Everything I do now is so that my family can be set in the future,” she said.
On top of a busy work schedule, she's a three-sport athlete, playing on the basketball, volleyball and cross country teams. She is also on the student council and yearbook staff.
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And on Saturday, Makila will cross the stage as valedictorian of Sugar Creek High School’s first senior class. (After 15 years as a K-8 school, Sugar Creek Charter School expanded in 2014.)
She'll graduate with a 4.0 GPA.
It's like Makila has five extra hours in her day, said Tela Thigpen, director of college and career services at Sugar Creek.
“Sometimes (Makila's family) didn’t have what they needed, but you’d never know. She never misses a beat,” Thigpen said.
In the fall, Makila said she’ll start at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., where she has a full scholarship. She plans to major in business and commerce and minor in project management.
A first-generation college student, Makila said it was difficult to decide to move away from her family.
“The day before decision day, we all sat in the living room crying because we knew that was the best decision for me, but we were so close as a family,” she said.
She'll be leaving her mom, grandparents, and three siblings.
Her brother LaVar is one year younger, but she calls him her “twin brother.” They have always fostered a healthy competition, she said.
“I felt like I had to prove something...” she said.
But when LaVar received a scholarship to attend Charlotte Country Day for high school and she did not, Makila knew that their rivalry was over.
“I realized, if I’m going to work for something, I need to work for myself,” she said. “But my brother is very smart, because he gets it from his sister, of course.”
Makila said she's excited to go to college knowing that she'll graduate debt-free. She isn't sure exactly where she'll end up, but she's okay with that.
"I’m not scared of what the future will bring to me because I know that God has a plan for me."