After overcoming a period of homelessness in his teenage years, Brainerd High School Salutatorian Isaiah Smith graduated at the top of his class and is heading in July to Colorado Springs for four years at the U.S. Air Force Academy.
When Smith was a child, he fell in love with being in the sky. He loved to watch the Blue Angels, said his mother Yvonne Smith.
As a middle-schooler, he was always sick, in and out of the emergency room, she said. She discovered mold in their Rossville, Ga., home was the cause, and instead of fixing the problem, their landlord evicted them.
The two were homeless as Isaiah Smith entered the eighth grade at East Lake Academy, where he was passionate about music class but struggled with academics.
"It was difficult for him to concentrate and do the above-standard work he normally does," said Yvonne Smith. "I knew when he had a place to call home he would do well."
His brother was in the Junior Reserve Officers' Training Corps, which inspired him when he was about to enter high school to research local JROTC programs. With his love of flying, he wanted to attend Hixson High, which has an Air Force JROTC program.
Because he and his mother were staying in Highland Park and lacked transportation, he would walk miles in all types of weather to catch the bus to Brainerd High, where he joined JROTC with a goal of eventually joining the military.
"I stayed focused, completed all my classwork and gave my best in everything I did," said Isaiah Smith, as to how he was able to raise himself to the top of the class.
He was accepted into the Air Force Academy's summer seminar program last June and spent a week in Colorado learning about life as a cadet. After a process of almost a year, including an interview with a U.S. Congressman, Smith was appointed to the academy.
While he will attend free of charge, he is working to raise money to cover fees and other expenses, said Yvonne Smith.
Once he graduates, Isaiah Smith said he will spend 20 years serving as a pilot for the Air Force.