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At a time during which most young women are fraught with junior-high angst, 14-year-old Alysah Ensley and her 13-year-old sister, Kailah, were facing a new challenge: their first day of college. Two years and two degrees later, the sisters are earning their place in local history as two of the youngest students to enroll and graduate from Lee College (Texas).
It’s an accomplishment they acknowledge with humility.
“It never occurred to me, not once at all,” said Kailah, who at 15 is the youngest graduate in the college’s 78-year history. “I was just enrolling in college. I never thought I’d be one of the youngest graduates.”
“You hear stories like this, but many of those kids are 12-year-old child geniuses, and we’re not,” added Alysah, now 17. “Our parents taught us to think on our own and work hard.”
A very early start
“Working hard” is an understatement. Under the guidance of their parents, Athelda, a freelance writer, and Sean, an occupational safety and environmental health manager at a federal correctional complex, the sisters began home education at 18 months and were reading by age two.
Graduating students take to the stage and podium
In 2009, in an effort to supplement the girls’ math curriculum, the Ensleys enrolled Alysah and Kailah in an online “Introduction to Algebra” course offered through Lee College’s continuing education program. They were 13 and 12, respectively. The following year, the sisters completed the Accuplacer test, were deemed “college ready,” and thanks to a flexible admissions policy enrolled at Lee College.
It was their first experience in public school.
“I definitely felt nervous, but I never felt intimidated,” Alysah said. “Our parents always encouraged us to participate in activities with home-school groups and to socialize with people of different ages and backgrounds, so in that sense, I felt at home.
“I like to ask questions, it helps me learn. And I think I was most nervous about what the professors would think of that,” she added. “But I didn’t have any bad professors. I was able to ask questions and speak to them after class, which was helpful.”
The self-proclaimed “shy” sister, Kailah admits she was a little intimidated at first.
“I’ve definitely come a long way since I first enrolled at Lee College. Once upon a time, I was the kind of person who just wanted to fade into the crowd. But I took classes like Mr. Ganakos’ Honors Public Speaking, which forced me to stand up in front of people. It was also the hardest class I’ve ever taken. I used to have an obsession with ‘A’s. I had to work so hard for that ‘B,’ it put things into perspective. I think that was my turning point. Now my mindset is to work hard and make myself stand out.”
In addition to maintaining 3.3 and 3.8 grade-point-averages, respectively, Alysah and Kailah have played an active role in campus life, serving with organizations including the Lee College Student Ambassadors, Phi Theta Kappa, the Walter Prescott Webb Society and others. Both have also received several scholarships.
Alysah, who will graduate with an associate degree in humanities, plans to transfer to a four-year university and pursue a career in music. She said Lee College has helped her progress towards her goal of graduating without student loan debt.
“Students don’t want to jump into a field blindly and graduate without a job and with debt. As an ambassador, I’ve always told people that the great thing about Lee College is that it gives you the option to figure out what you want to do, without worrying about the debt.”
Kailah, meanwhile, credits the college and counselors with helping her find her calling.
“I fluctuated between so many fields. But I was able to change my major as many times as I wanted. Then one day, after praying about it and looking through the catalog I stumbled upon social work. I met with Marissa Moreno, the lead counselor, and she told me more about the program and the job itself, and I realized, that is what I want to do. I want to teach and inspire others.”
Copyright ©2012 American Association of Community Colleges