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Triumph over adversity makes KC teen a national Horatio Alger Scholar

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- More than a century ago an author named Horatio Alger wrote popular rags-to-riches novels about children born or raised in very difficult economic or family situations who worked hard and later became very successful in life.

Now an educational organization that bears his name awards substantial annual scholarships each year to a few dozen high school seniors who succeed in spite of hardships and misfortune. The only national Horatio Alger Scholar in the Kansas City region for 2016 is this week’s FOX 4 Reaching 4 Excellence young achiever.

You won’t find any slackers in the Project Lead the Way classroom of seniors at Cristo Rey Kansas City High School. They are excellent science and math students, highly motivated and challenging themselves, learning intricate engineering principles. Mikayla Bridgewater fits right in there.

“I feel like I was born to be an engineer,” said Mikayla, this week’s FOX 4 Young Achiever. “I don’t ever think anything is impossible. I just feel like it hasn’t been done yet.”

Mikayla is on track to be valedictorian of this year’s senior class at Cristo Rey. And she has plans to go to Missouri University of Science and Technology this fall to major in environmental and chemical engineering.

“I’m going to go do something I love and then make something good come from it,” said Mikaya. “I’m not on Earth to see what I can get from the Earth. I’m on Earth to see what I can give to the Earth. That’s how I look at it.”

Strong academics are just one reason why Mikayla is a standout at Cristo Rey. She’s also a dynamic student leader, peer mentor and role model. In the school’s Christian Leaders group, Mikayla has stepped up to help guide other students in their spiritual growth and community service.

And as a student ambassador and event speaker, Mikayla is consistently called upon to represent Cristo Rey to prospective students and the community. She stars in the school’s impressive marketing video.

“It’s just a blessing,” said Mikayla. “God got me here to do this. I feel like this all just part of the bigger picture. I feel like God put everything in place for me to use it to my advantage to make life better for others.”

Mikayla is so successful and her future is so bright and promising that it’s hard to imagine that it was all in jeopardy. But it was. And for a long time. In fact as recently as two years ago life was a real mess for Mikayla.

“I hit my lowest point and then I was, ‘This is not how I want to live,’” said Mikayla. Mikayla went through years of family struggles and hardship. Her parents couldn’t or wouldn’t raise her so she lived with aunts, often contentiously, from the time she was a small child. She was on her own for several months. And difficult financial times were common. Then a revelation came for her.

“I realized I wasn’t alone,” says Mikayla. “I’m not alone. As long as I’ve got God I will never be alone. As soon as I got better with God, the relationships that were bad before turned good. And I started getting more support in my life.”

“I honestly don’t think she’s ever been mired in it,” said Steph Hart, Mikayla’s counselor at Cristo Rey.

Hart helped Mikayla navigate the stormy seas of her life.

“She lives (the difficult times),” said Hart, “but she has always been above it, saying, ‘This is not who I am or where I want to be in my future. So I’m staying above it so that I can continue to rise from there rather than rise from the bottom.’ I think she has always known, ‘This is not what I want for myself and so I’m going to do more so I can eventually be out of this.’”

Now, because of her remarkable triumph over adversity Mikayla has been named a national Horatio Alger Scholar. And she’ll get a $22,000 award to pay for college to get her on to her promising future – and on to a special goal she has set for herself.

“To put three kids through college that have struggled or come from difficult backgrounds that have faced adversity,” said Mikayla. “ And to do it, she says, she might create a scholarship. Perhaps a national Mikayla Bridgewater Scholarship.

“Yeah, there just might be one day,” said Mikayla with a huge smile. “Just might be.”

Mikayla will join the other 105 Horatio Alger Scholars for 2016 for a national conference in Washington, D-C next month where they will be honored. Students from two other Cristo Rey high schools, Philadelphia and Cincinnati, will also be there as recipients this year.

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 Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.