KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- At the end of every school year, an organization, named for an author famous for his stories about children overcoming adversity, honors a few dozen graduating U.S. high school seniors who triumph over big obstacles. The victory of this week's Fox 4 Young Achiever over her obstacles is a thrilling true-life story that will make you stand up and cheer -- and it's made Edna McCrary a Horatio Alger National Scholar for 2013.
The word "scary" comes up a lot in conversations with Edna McCrary or when she makes a presentation like the one she did recently for future students at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School.
"That was pretty scary," says Edna with a big smile shortly after her speech.
During her senior year at Cristo Rey, as a student ambassador and peer mentor, Edna found herself doing a lot of speaking to groups large and small -- children, teens and adults -- but it is still very uncomfortable for her.
"At first I couldn't stop shaking my hands," says Edna of her time at the podium. "I had to use two hands on the mike. Then I eventually stopped shaking. When people smile, it kind of helps me, too. And I know I won't be speaking forever during that moment. So I just get over it."
In spite of the anxiety, Edna pushed herself to do more and more speaking.
"I want to keep trying," says Edna, "because I know I'm going to have to do it in college, too, public speaking for projects and everything. I want to be a motivational speaker, too. But that's weird because I don't like taking in front of people."
And, in spite of nagging self-doubt and fear of rejection, of growing up and living in a dangerous area, in spite of a lot more she'd rather not share, Edna challenged herself to dive into work experiences for four years at the University of Kansas Hospital, to write compelling, honest, revealing and very fine poetry and essays and to step up to school and community leadership, even though it was all scary. Because perseverance is also a word people now use to describe Edna.
"She has finally said, 'Enough is enough, I'm not going to let myself hold myself back,'" says Javon Gill, Cristo Rey Kansas City High School college counselor. "She has said that, 'I'm going to succeed and I'm going to get out there and do what I need to do to show myself that I can do this.'"
Edna says it wasn't that long ago that she never would have considered a top college or a challenging and rewarding professional career. But now she will go to William Jewell College in Liberty, Mo., this fall to study to become a nurse. And she'll do it basically free, with loads of financial aid and scholarships, including a big one from an organization that's recognizing her for excelling in spite of the obstacles in her life.
"I think I show people that I can keep going on despite, like, my fears, or just anything really," says Edna. "And that I can get the job done. Because I want to show my skills, too, somehow. And show I can make a difference, I guess."
Edna was honored this spring by the Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans as one of its National Scholars. She got to go to Washington, D.C. with about 100 other extraordinary American high school seniors who achieved over big adversities. And she gets a $20,000 college scholarship.
It's proof Edna is transforming herself.
"I guess that I really am, I guess, smart and can achieve many things in the future," says Edna. "And that I can be part of a big association for life. And they're counting on me to achieve."
The transformation isn't complete yet, Edna admits, but she says the fearful Edna is vanishing and the strong, courageous, capable Edna is coming into definite form.
"For years now I've been battling, trying to get over my fear of talking to people in general, like, large groups, too," says Edna. "And I guess I just want to show everyone out there that you can do it. Even if you are shy, you can still do it. Because that's like something unique that goes along with your personality, too. You can do anything you set your mind to."
Edna worked for KU Hospital for fours years as part of her school's program to have students work to help pay their tuition. She made such a positive impact in the hospital marketing and communications department that the staff hired her for the summer.
Young Achiever update
We have a happy update on another Fox 4 Young Achiever who has triumphed over difficulties. Amanda Swift, a recent graduate of West Platte High School in Weston, Mo., won Gold at the Family, Career and Community Leaders of America (FCCLA) national conference in Nashville, Tenn. Amanda did it with her state champion FCCLA applied technology project called "Empower the Innocent." It centers on rape and sexual assault awareness and prevention and fits in with FCCLA's national Stop the Violence program. Amanda herself is a survivor of childhood sexual assault
Fox 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Monday on Fox 4 News at 8 a.m., every Wednesday on Fox 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on Fox 4 News at 5 p.m.