Editor’s note: This is the first story in a longstanding annual series in the MDJ spotlighting the county’s best and brightest as they graduate high school. The recognition takes on new meaning with the loss of many senior activities due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Kailyn Askins remained among the top 5% of her class every year of her high school career, achieving a GPA that topped 4.6 and set her on the path to achieving her No. 1 dream: attending Columbia University.

Putting in the work

Askins, a graduating Marietta High School senior, says it’s been a goal of hers for years to attend the private, Ivy League university in New York City. She said her father is an alumnus, and from day 1 of high school, she’s been working toward her acceptance.

In her final year, Askins took multiple International Baccalaureate classes, as well as online advanced placement courses.

Askins was also named a National Merit Scholarship finalist, an honor bestowed on fewer than 1% of the 3.5 million high school students estimated to take the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test, also known as the PSAT, annually.

But she said while she worked hard in school, the effort comes easily.

“I would just say I find it hard to let myself not work hard on things. I would just try to do my best work with whatever I was doing,” Askins said, adding that her friends are also hard workers who hold each other accountable.

Askins, who said she’d like to be a lawyer, also served as captain of the Marietta High School color guard and winter guard for her junior and senior years, a position she said gave her confidence and leadership experience.

She said her four years of color guard and her gradual ascent through the ranks was the highlight of her high school career.

“I’m very proud of that because when I started, I’d never done it before and I was not good at it,” Askins said with a chuckle. “But over the years, I was able to improve enough to make the team members and my director and teachers trust that I could be captain and lead.”

But, she said, practicing with color guard up to 15 hours per week, while balancing school, community service and other activities meant she was up late many nights.

‘She’s very determined’

Though she’s extremely proud of her daughter, that sometimes made Askins’ mother, Sharon Askins, want to take some of the work away.

“She would stay up until like 1 o’clock in the morning working or she would wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning to do work,” Sharon Askins said. “She’s very determined.”

The Marietta senior’s mother said she dedicated herself to her studies and to color guard, which sometimes was a challenge to balance. She said Kailyn Askins had to prioritize which school events she’d be able to attend, earning her a fitting award at a recent ceremony.

“Hers was, ‘I can’t, I have color guard,’” her mother said. “There were a lot of things she didn’t get to participate in, but she picked and chose the ones that were important. She just balanced it out.”

Sharon Askins said her family is “very proud and thankful” for Kailyn Askins, someone the Marietta mother said is focused, measured and diligent beyond her years.

“I wish I could’ve been like that,” she said.

Barbara Manwell taught Kailyn Askins in her International Baccalaureate theory of knowledge class during her junior and senior years. Manwell said she saw firsthand the work ethic and drive her mother spoke about.

“When I think about Kailyn, I think of a 360-degree person. She’s multifaceted. And students who are as focused and diligent as she is about her work maybe can sometimes appear to be one-dimensional, but she’s not at all,” Manwell said. “She’s also extremely creative and expressive. She’s a great conversationalist who laughs really easily.”

Manwell said her student is never happy to “stand on her own success,” but always strives to improve. And, she added, obstacles placed in her path won’t stop her either.

The Marietta teacher said even when, at the start of her color guard career, she sustained a leg injury that prevented her from taking the field, Kailyn Askins worked hard to rehabilitate herself and build enough strength to return by the season’s end. Manwell said the injury likely would have kept many other students out for the rest of the season.

“I absolutely believe that Kailyn can accomplish really anything she sets her mind to. As a kid, she’s got a fountain of natural ability, and that’s pretty obvious when you see her work or you meet her,” Manwell said. “She expects that success will come with hard work, and she’s willing to do the work. ... She’s a kid who has grit, and that’s an unusual characteristic for teenagers.”

And though her senior year was disrupted and changed by the coronavirus, Kailyn Askins says she’s prepared to move on and achieve even more.

“It was kind of sad, because it was really our last two months of being together every day, and now that’s gone,” she said. “(But) I do feel ready to leave home, because I want to meet new people and take classes on a wider range of subjects.”

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Follow Thomas Hartwell on Twitter at twitter.com/MDJThomas.

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