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Contributed photo / Dequila Byrd, center, is seen with her grandmother, Joy Cagle, and high school resource officer, Bruce Coker, at Ridgeland High School's Senior Night. Byrd credits the two for helping her land a $10,000 scholarship and supporting her in pursuing her dreams.

While a sophomore at Ridgeland High School, Dequila Byrd decided her stomach was too weak to become a doctor, her childhood ambition. Instead, she decided she would become an attorney.

There was just one problem: how to pay for college.

Byrd — who is now in her freshman year at the University of West Georgia — is the first person in her family to attend college. She is only the second of her relatives to graduate high school, according to the Chickamauga native.

"What I always told my friends was, 'I didn't take the story that was written for me, I wrote my own story.' If I were to live the story life gave me, I definitely would not be where I'm at right now," she said, while making the commute from her full load of criminology classes back to her apartment.

At 14 months old, Byrd's mother relinquished her to the state. As she struggled with drug abuse and abusive boyfriends, Byrd's grandmother became her surrogate mother.

"I can't say I've been through more than anyone else or they've been through more than me — we all struggle — but I definitely went through it for sure," said Byrd.

Her story, as well as her can-do attitude, ended up netting her a $10,000 scholarship from the Horatio Alger Association. One of "a crapton" of scholarships she said she applied for, it was the answer to the question attached to her dreams since childhood.

While Byrd said she's always had a college-focused mindset, maintaining a 3.5 GPA while working her way through high school to supplement her grandmother's disability income, "without [the Horatio Alger scholarship], I probably wouldn't be in college."

In addition to her own determination, she credits her grandmother, Joy Cagle, and high school resource officer, Bruce Coker, for helping her get this far.

"If not for him, I definitely wouldn't have made it through high school," Byrd said, adding, "I think I would want to be that for someone else."

With options now opened up before her, she is waffling on whether to become an attorney or go into social services. She thinks her own experience could be an asset for others.

"It always bothered me, but as I've gotten older I've come to realize it's part of me. And wanting to better myself, that's all part of it," she said.

Contact Jennifer Bardoner at jbardoner@timesfreepress.com.

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