“I’d rather have options.”
Self-reliant adult-ed grad makes her own way at an early age.
Kayleigh Grimes finished her first semester of college recently. At age 16. Not bad for someone who didn’t finish high school.
“The day I had my accident I was already talking to them about homeschool,” she says of her withdrawal meeting with the high school she attended, soon after a car wreck that kept her out of classes for three months—the lethal blow to her high-school career. “I have really bad depression and anxiety, and so it’s like a constant battle.”
That battle, and others—growing up in several different towns, falling behind in school due to a horrific accident, working full-time at a young age—might have left anyone else dejected. Kayleigh only became more determined, more self-reliant. “I don’t think about anybody else when I see my future, because everybody leaves at one point in your life,” she says. While this might seem pessimistic, especially for a teenager, Kayleigh’s situation is different, and therefore her approach is different. She has had to figure out a lot on her own, through life experience.
Take her experience in earning her high-school-equivalency diploma through Northeast Mississippi Community College. “It [enrolling in the program] wasn’t that bad because I had a friend doing it with me. It was something we both agreed to do. Then after two days she split,” Kayleigh says, laughing.
Left on her own, Kayleigh trudged on, despite her challenges. According to Deanne Droke, one of Kayleigh’s instructors, “Kayleigh didn’t attend regular classes because of how much she had to work, but when she came in the afternoons and evenings, she was always ready to work. She always had a smile on her face no matter what stresses were going on in her life. She was a treasure.”
Once Kayleigh got started, the pieces fell into place rather quickly. She completed the short work-skills curriculum Smart Start, blazed through the subject-matter test preparation, aced the HiSET (the equivalent of the GED test in Mississippi), and set her sights on college (again, at age sixteen). Balancing her work and school schedule with her specific housing challenges says Droke, “She stayed with whoever let her lay her head down at their home.”
“The people I lived with liked to stay out and do stuff. And then there was me, just wanting to go home and go to bed—and at the same time, you know, you only live once.” Kayleigh moved forward, working with Northeast’s adult education and college-faculty advising staff to enroll in college. “College is something I’ve always wanted to experience,” she says, “because I’ve never wanted to be stuck in this town—or state, for that matter. I know how to get out without a college degree, but I’d rather have options.”
Her first semester behind her, now awaiting the start of her second, still working full-time, she looks forward to her future while dealing with the challenge of her busy life—any way she can. “Trying to keep my grades up on top of the stress and working full-time—it gets difficult to juggle,” she says. “I think the main thing [that keeps me going] is…I didn’t know Northeast had a Starbucks!”
Besides caffeine and sheer grit, Kayleigh relies on another time-honored method for navigating life. “I write all the time. I’m really bad at poetry, but I still attempt it,” she says. “Sometimes I just write down my thoughts.”
What inspires her? “I like poetry and I like quotes. That’s why everybody’s on Tik Tok now and I’m still on Pinterest from like 3 years ago.”
“When I was younger,” she says (again: sixteen), “I tried to write a book. I wrote half of it, and then found something else to spend my time on.” Understandable; she was in “probably the ninth grade”.
And what does she write now, at the ripe old age of barely seventeen? “I normally write fiction, fantasy—where I would like to see myself. With hardships that you must get through. Nothing like Cinderella.”
Through all the moving around, getting knocked down, getting back up; feeling her way through her young, prematurely mature life, Kayleigh keeps her perspective. She knows what she wants and needs, what she plans for her future. “I want to have the kind of money that my family never had—to be financially stable,” she says, though that’s not all that success means to her. “It means you get a better life than you had when you were younger, and you get to a point in your life where you say, ‘OK, I’m fine with living like this—not moving around all the time; being somewhere that you want to be that makes you happy; not having to think about, ‘Well, what am I gonna do tomorrow?’”
It sounds cliche to say that she lives for today. But Kayleigh seems to know that that’s the only day anyone is ever assured of. And the only time anyone can learn anything. She learns and grows, now, for a better future. That is something anyone, of any age, can learn from.