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Lailah Hite

Straight-‘A’s, Softball and Steady Support

By Lisa Cannon

“She seems like someone who, once focused, achieves her goals.”

“Look for the helpers,” beloved children’s TV icon Mr. Rogers famously said. He meant that if you want to find what is good and hopeful about a society, you should look for the people who help others. At Meridian, that approach would lead you to a tenth-grader named Lailah Hite. Lailah is soft-spoken but carries an inner strength and compassion for others well beyond her fifteen years. She tells us that amongst her friends, she is alternately called the “mom” or the “therapist.” She’s a good listener when people need to talk through their problems.

Lailah’s care and concern for others is also evident in her future career choices. Right now, she is interested in being either a Pre-K through fifth-grade teacher or a neonatal nurse. We note that those are very specific choices and ask what inspired them. Lailah says that her own fifth-grade teacher, Robin Mouser, has been a huge influence on her. As for neonatal nursing — she loves babies and would like to be around them and help.

Nursing requires studying lots of hardcore math and science in both high school and college. That won’t be a problem for Lailah, an A student who clearly loves a challenge. Starting next year, she will take dual enrollment classes offered by Meridian and Shawnee Community College to earn credits toward becoming a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA). With the high demand for healthcare workers, Lailah could work as a CNA while she is pursuing her nursing degree.

Born and raised in Pulaski County, she has family members “everywhere down here.” And her life is filled with “little stories about the fair or just random basketball games.” Lailah enjoys being a part of a team. That’s part of her motivation for playing several team sports, including softball (her favorite), volleyball, and basketball. She loves being around people, even though she can be introverted sometimes. When she needs some alone time, she pulls back a bit. But she’s always grateful to have people to reconnect with the next day or week. Lailah doesn’t tie herself down to any single friend group, she likes to float around and hang out with different groups. We imagine that her easygoing way and kind demeanor make it easy for her to fit in most anywhere she wants to.

Lailah is keen to see more of the country, and for college is considering schools in Tennessee, Kentucky, or out west (where she would love to see mountains). She expects to be competitive for athletic and academic scholarships to help finance college, but she knows she has to keep her grades up and stay on track to realize this plan. She seems like someone who, once focused, achieves her goals. This will serve Lailah well in life now and in the future.

We are interested to know where Lailah, born and raised in a small town where she knows everyone, gets the courage to want to go somewhere newer, bigger, less familiar. Without hesitation, she says, “My parents. They just tell me to be myself,” and if she works hard, anything is possible. Her dad speaks from his own experience – he has worked for the same company, American Commercial Barge Lines, since he was 17 years old. And her mom is a great role model for just “being herself and not really caring what other people think.”

When asked how she might use a “magic wand” if offered one, it did not surprise us that Lailah’s wish would be to use the power to help others. Specifically, she’d like to help people that are struggling with mental health. She notes that it is something a lot of students deal with but find difficult to open up about. In many ways her role as an empathetic listener provides a valuable safe space for her friends to share things they might worry about and figure out ways forward. We gently muse that Lailah is not a licensed therapist, but she is a “licensed friend.” Clearly her peers find her trustworthy or they wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing with her. No matter what career Lailah chooses down the road, she is and always will be a helper. And her community, and our world, is lucky to have people like her coming up.

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