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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Alexandria Mabry poses for a photo at Ruby Falls Wednesday, May 30, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Mabry is the valedictorian at South Pittsburg High School.
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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Alexandria Mabry, the valedictorian at South Pittsburg High School, poses for a photo Saturday, May 12, 2018 at the Chattanooga Times Free Press in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Alexandria Mabry knew she would have to pay for her college education, so she's been working since her sophomore year to do it. She was also co-captain of her volleyball team. And she still graduated top student in her class at South Pittsburg High School.

"It's not really a struggle," she said recently before starting her shift as a tour guide at Ruby Falls.

Mabry scored a 34 on her ACT test, putting her among the top 1 percent of test takers in the country (the highest possible score is 36). During senior awards night, she received more than 20 awards and scholarships.

She also landed a four-year scholarship earlier this year to the University of Mississippi. She plans to study biology at Ole Miss, with plans to become a surgeon or a dermatologist.

Mabry said she continued working even after earning a scholarship because she also wanted to buy a car.

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Alexandria Mabry poses for a photo at Ruby Falls Wednesday, May 30, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Mabry is the valedictorian at South Pittsburg High School.

During most of the school year, she drove her dad's 2007 Ford Taurus, which she calls "the Blue Bomber" and describes as "a little bit ugly." In April, she purchased her own 2014 Ford Focus, a sportier ride she calls "the Black Pearl."

She said she's always been organized. She has goals and a work ethic to achieve them.

The work ethic comes from growing up on a goat farm in Lubbock, Texas, where her family lived for 17 years before coming to South Pittsburg, Tennessee, in 2014.

Her dad, Trent Mabry, said he wanted to make sure he passed on character and discipline learned from hard work.

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Staff photo by Erin O. Smith / Alexandria Mabry poses for a photo at Ruby Falls Wednesday, May 30, 2018 in Chattanooga, Tenn. Mabry is the valedictorian at South Pittsburg High School.

"Her mom and I, we've got high morals, high values," he said. "If you want something in life, you've got to work for it. There's no handouts. I don't believe in giving kids everything they want because they're going to have to function on their own in the real world."

Her father told her she would have to provide her own way to college and buy her own car if she wanted one.

Her family didn't have casual days to sit idle, said 18-year-old Mabry. They started every morning before daybreak feeding farm animals. They had more than 30 sheep and goats, five horses, two cows and a pig.

Farming was the family hobby. She and her three younger siblings went to school after caring for the animals. Her parents went to work.

Her mom, Nikki Mabry, teaches middle- school math. Trent Mabry works as a helicopter nurse/ flight paramedic.

And each of her siblings plays more than one sport.

She played basketball, softball and volleyball when she started high school, but stuck with volleyball because that's where she showed the most talent.

She said she mostly warmed the bench in basketball and wasn't that great in softball. But in volleyball she excelled so much so that the coach named her team co-captain.

She worked at Shoney's on the weekends from noon to 10:30 p.m. before quitting that job to work at Ruby Falls.

She started working at Ruby Falls this spring and said that job allows her to have a schedule where she can spend more time with family and friends.

Finding time to spend with family and friends while working, playing sports and attending school was a challenge, Mabry said. But with time she's getting better at managing it all and said she has a good appreciation for sleep.

Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at yputman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6431.

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