- Associated Press - Sunday, June 21, 2015

JACKSON, Mich. (AP) - It would have been easy to just let circumstances take over, but deep inside Ke’Antae Wilkie knew he wasn’t that kind of person.

Expelled from Jackson Public Schools in middle school for an incident involving a BB gun on a bus, Wilkie was home-schooled for a year before being allowed back into Jackson’s alternative high school as a freshman.

It’s a path that can end up with a student dropping out or barely getting by. But not for Wilkie.

On May 22, the 18-year-old graduated from Jackson High School with a 3.5 grade point average. This fall, he goes to the University of Michigan with a full-ride scholarship, the Jackson Citizen Patriot (http://bit.ly/1cWH1R7 ) reported.

“I could have been written off as a statistic,” Wilkie said. “But I knew I wasn’t the type of person to lie down and just let life hit me.”

Wilkie’s journey began the moment he walked into T.A. Wilson Academy.

“Everywhere I looked, I just saw the same thing - people who were lost and didn’t know what they wanted to do with themselves,” he said. “And at that point, I guess neither did I.”

Wilkie felt out of place at the alternative high school. He worried he would be lost or forgotten. Classmates told him he’d never leave and make it to Jackson High.

“It would have been easy to just listen to them, but I knew that wasn’t me,” he said. “I became determined to make something of myself.”

His resolve paid off. That December, Wilkie walked out of Wilson and into the freshman class at Jackson High. He was a little scared, but knew in his gut he was where he needed and wanted to be.

Wilkie spent long nights studying at the library. He took extra classes online to catch up.

“Ke’Antae was never afraid to ask for help, and that’s a genuine and endearing quality,” Jackson High School Principal Barbara Baird-Pauli said. “He realized early that feeling sorry for yourself doesn’t serve a purpose, and when he made the decision he wanted his outcome to be different, it changed the way he looked at life, school and everything.”

Wilkie caught up. He earned straight A’s his junior and senior years and completed four Advanced Placement classes.

But the challenge isn’t over. Wilkie’s scholarship at U-M is for one year, but can be renewed if he makes the grades.

“I feel like it’s the school for me,” he said. “I’m a hard-working student, and I like to be around like-minded people - people who work hard on more than just school work, people who want to make a difference.”

The son of a single working mother and a father whose job kept him out of town a lot, Wilkie said he “bounced around” between family members while growing up.

“I was kind of on my own,” he said. “And I didn’t see a lot of people with my skin color excel, so how could I be smart? I never felt people believed in me.”

Wilkie found the support and encouragement he craved from Jackson High teachers and Baird-Pauli.

“Sometimes it’s not about what you see in yourself, it’s what others see in you,” he said.

That’s a lesson he’s tried to share with others, including his best friend, Anthony Coffie, 16, a Jackson High junior.

“Ke’Antae keeps it real,” Coffie said. “He’s not a sugar-coating type of person, and he’s influenced me not to be that kind of person either. Going from T.A. Wilson to the University of Michigan is pretty much unheard of, but I think he will do very well. He just has to keep his eyes open to the possibilities.”

Wilkie is almost hesitant to say it, but he dreams of being a doctor. He wants to help low-income families, and be a role model for young black children.

“I want them to see that someone who was in the same position they are can be a success,” he said.

Wilkie knows there still are many goals to strive for.

“Some people still look at me like I’m crazy for going to U of M, and that’s OK,” he said. “I love a good challenge. I’ve still got something to prove to myself. There’s a way to succeed, you just have to believe in yourself and get others to believe in you, too.”

___

Information from: Jackson Citizen Patriot, http://www.mlive.com/jackson

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