Thursday, June 2, 2011

hero of the day: Brianna Kennedy

This article is about my cousin Brianna who grew up on the reservation in Nebraska that my family is from (it's a ghetto with shitty schools and horrible living conditions). She's such a badass and makes me feel terrible for the way I've looked at school for the longest time (read sidebar of my blog page). Gah, what a good kid!

PS. My uncle Brian is really a good guy, he just has a hard time separating his personal life and the life of raising his daughter. I see them both at Pow Wow together every other year so they're getting along.

HOMER, Neb. -- New high school graduates talk about being ready for adulthood.

They're ready to get out on their own, make their own decisions, take on bigger responsibilities.

You probably won't hear Brianna Kennedy making those types of declarations after she graduates from Homer High School this afternoon.

Because of a less-than-ideal family life, Kennedy has been looking out for herself, making many of her own decisions for quite some time now.

In July, she was granted a court order of emancipation, effectively gaining independence from her parents. She went through her senior year officially on her own.

"It was a great feeling," the 18-year-old says. "I remember being scared about it, being on my own. It took me awhile to get used to having to pay for stuff and being on my own."

Her parents divorced when she was little. She tried to live with her mother in Lexington, Neb., in fourth grade, but didn't like it there, so she moved back with her father and was forced to deal with his life choices.

Starting when she was in sixth grade, her father and his girlfriend would drink and argue late into the night, so Kennedy often went to school exhausted from lack of sleep. She got involved in school activities so she could stay away from home.

When her family was kicked out of their home in November 2009, she had had enough. She told her father she wasn't moving with him and the girlfriend to Sioux City. She wanted to finish school in Homer and be free of the chaos at home.

So she moved in with a friend's family to finish her junior year. After that arrangement didn't work out, she moved in with family friend Brenda Gabel last summer and filed for emancipation.

Her mother, who now lives in Indiana, was upset about her daughter's emancipation request at first but later realized it was best for her. They still speak often. Kennedy says her father often tells her how proud he is of her. He's never spoken about the emancipation with her.

The decision to become emancipated wasn't about them, Kennedy says. It was about taking care of herself. She needed to free herself from the uncertainty that had filled her life.

"I didn't want to hurt them," she says. "I just wanted to do what was best for me. I love them both so much."

It would have been easy for her to use her situation as an excuse to feel sorry for herself, to give up, to fail.

She didn't.

She will graduate third in her class, with a 3.9 grade point average. She's been the captain of the cheerleading squad the past two years, captain of the dance team this year. She's involved in choir, one-act play production and National Honor Society. She works part time at Subway in South Sioux City.

"Going out and achieving things, to me, means so much more than living in the past. I've moved on," she says. "I'm not going to stay mad at anybody."

With her high school years at an end, does she feel bad about having to grow up basically on her own?

A little, yes. But she says she wouldn't trade her life's experience for a more traditional family life.

"If I wouldn't have gone through any of this, I wouldn't be the person I am. I wouldn't be this strong."

For that reason, she says she wouldn't change anything.

"I would have loved to have had a better childhood, but I don't know who I'd be. I think it made me a better person."

It's not fair she's had to go through all this. She will tell you that herself. But she's come to terms with it and is obviously proud of her ability to make grown-up decisions. Earlier this year she bought her own car. She pays for the insurance and all her school expenses. She'll attend the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in the fall and has earned scholarships to pay for college. She's undecided on a major but wants to go into some type of health field.

Not having the same parental support her friends enjoy made high school challenging at times, she says. That's why it annoys her when they complain about their parents. If they only knew how hard it is to be an adult while you're still a kid.

"It just sucks because I've had to grow up so fast," Kennedy says as her voice catches and a tear slides down her cheek. "Everybody always remembers their childhood. I don't remember mine. I had to grow up way too fast."

She quickly composes herself and reveals what keeps her going.

"I just want to succeed in my life. I think that's what pushes me."

If the past is any indication of the future, when life pushes her, she's not going to fall.

She's going to push right back.