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Everything in Makenna Hill's life changed when she was 8 years old.
Her father went to prison and her mother, who had always stayed home, started working two jobs to support the family.
Makenna became a parent to her two younger sisters, fixing their meals and helping them with homework.
At an early age, she had a choice to make. The trials her family faced could make her a victim or a leader.
Makenna chose leader.
It wasn't always an easy choice. Every day she faced painful reminders of how her life had changed. Simple events like the elementary school Dads and Doughnuts Day reminded Makenna of what she was missing. But she took all the negatives in her life and used them as motivation.
Now a senior at Clearfield High School, she has accomplished great things.
She is a senior class officer, a straight-A student and the first member of her family who will attend college. When she starts her higher education this fall, she will have 21 college credits earned through Advanced Placement classes and concurrent college enrollment. Throughout high school, Makenna has given more than 300 hours in community service volunteering at Davis Hospital and the Boys & Girls Club.
When Makenna was in third grade, she decided she was going to be a pediatric nurse practitioner. She didn't know how she was going to be able to afford college, but she knew when the time came, she would find a way.
She has participated in Weber State University's Upward Bound Program, a pre-college program that helps students overcome obstacles that stand in their way of attending college. The group meets on Saturdays at Weber, where students take bridge classes to receive college credit and get help with high school or college work. Upward Bound helps students apply for scholarships and offers support.
Along with fellow student Yajaira K. Peralta, Makenna was awarded the Horatio Alger Utah Scholarship. The criteria include demonstrated commitment to education, dedication to community service and strength of character in overcoming personal obstacles to achieve academic excellence. Funding for this $5,000 scholarship was provided through the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation.
Makenna didn't stop there.
She received a scholarship from the Boys & Girls Club of Weber-Davis, which put her in a position to win the Utah State Boys and Girls Club Scholarship. She was awarded a $3,000 from the BYU Management Society. With all the scholarships, Makenna wasn't sure what college she would attend, but when Snow College offered her a full-ride academic scholarship, the decision was made.
The Upward Bound Program was just one of many motivators for Makenna. Her biggest supporter has been her mother.
"My mom is just so proud of me," Makenna said.
The teacher who influenced her the most is a math teacher, Ashley Martin.
"She's just an incredible teacher who really cares about her students. She always tells me that I'm awesome and that she is proud of me," she said.
Martin is impressed by the student.
"Makenna is one of the hardest-working students I have had the privilege of teaching during my career. She has amazing fortitude, determination to succeed in all she does and an optimistic outlook on the future and the wonderful things it will hold for her," Martin said. "Makenna is one of those students who makes me extremely honored to be a teacher, and I am so proud of her for all she has accomplished and will yet accomplish in her lifetime."
Even with all the course work and the perfect grades, Makenna makes time for others. Twice a week, she volunteers at the Boys and Girls Club in Roy.
"She comes here and helps the kids. She is a mentor and a tutor. The kids just love her. When she walks in, they all run up to her and hug her," said Danny Patino, assistant site director at the Boys and Girls Club.
With all her accomplishments, the thing that makes Makenna the proudest is the example she has set for her little sisters.
"They are already doing awesome; they are in student government and getting good grades. I think that being involved guarantees success," she said.
Also motivating her sisters toward college is their big sister's threat.
"If they don't go, I will wring their little necks," she joked.
Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans
The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans is dedicated to the simple but powerful belief that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles. Today, through its members, the association continues to educate our nation's young people about the economic and personal opportunities afforded them by the promise of the American free enterprise system. Through its scholarship programs, the association encourages students to pursue their own version of the American Dream.
Source: Horatio Alger Foundation website