BROOKSVILLE — As a junior last year, Sha'Niqua King began thinking in earnest about her final year at Hernando High School.
Not only was she intent on graduating; she wanted to do so away from the exceptional student program that she had been in since she was a youngster at Moton Elementary School.
"I'd been thinking about it," she said. "All my grades were good and my (grade-point average) was 3."
But there was an obstacle: Her English and reading skills were weak.
"I was in regular classes, but my English class had an extra teacher for help," she said. She was in a reading class, too, but she could not pass the English FCAT, which is necessary for graduation. "I passed the math with flying colors," she noted.
There was a Plan B, though.
King, 18, could graduate if she passed the ACT, a college entrance exam. She took it twice, trying to raise her score, and earned a high enough mark to exit the ESE program and head for graduation.
"I felt relieved,'' she said. "I was happy."
King's success is all the more impressive because of difficulties she faced at home during her junior year. She has lived most of her life with her grandmother, Jessie Jones. When Jones became ill, King moved in with her aunt, Melissa Jones. Her grandmother now is doing better, she said.
In 2008, King lost both her parents, about a month apart.
"It was rough,'' she said, reflecting on those days. "I was missing school. I didn't want to do work in classes. My test scores were bad."
She said she prayed and knew "that everything would be all right."
Things improved and King now thanks her family and her guidance counselor, Joan Emerson, for their support. "Without my family," she said. "I don't know. …"
Now, she's looking ahead to college. She has been accepted into Saint Leo University's Learning Enhancement for Academic Progress program, for students who would benefit from a more structured entrance into college.
"Since I was little, I have always wanted to go to college," she said. "I wanted to be somebody. Make my grandma proud."
King will major in business, which suits her interests. For all four years of high school, she has been a member of the Future Business Leaders of America. She said she has been in every FBLA competition and has won two trophies in skills word processing.
She had thought of a career in art or fashion design, but when she got a taste of business, she said, "I really like this. I'm good at it and there are so many things you can do in business."
King knows that improving her language skills will take time, but she's determined to succeed.
"I can do everything everybody else can do,'' she said.
Graduation at Hernando High School, 700 Bell Ave., Brooksville, will be at 7:30 p.m. today at the school's football stadium. If it rains, the ceremony will be postponed until Monday, same time and place.
Hernando High school
Valedictorian: Jessie Lynn Leasure
Parent: Sherry Leasure
College: New College, Sarasota
Field of Study: Fine arts
Salutatorian: Kiersten Joan Gorse
Parents: Charles and Natalie Gorse
College: Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y.
Field of Study: Veterinary medicine
Rounding out the Top 10
3. Kyle E. Morgan
4. Tabitha C. Williams
5. Lauren A. Parrish
6. Rebecca A. Baldwin
7. Kyle S. Wieszchowski
8. Ashley L. Spradlin
9. Shelby K. Stocker
10. Breanna N. Lettau
Hernando High school
Class of 2010