SHELBY, N.C. — Spectrum News 1's High School Scholar's program is kicking off for the season and showcasing young adults becoming leaders in our community. Shelby High School senior Keyona Whisnant is the first student Spectrum News 1 is featuring.
Sometimes talking through life's hurdles is a bit easier during a game of pickup basketball. Whisnant is part of a "Peer Group Connections" course where upperclassmen are selected to be mentors to younger students.
"I love hanging out with these kids, even though they don't like talking to me," laughed Whisnant.
Instead of sitting down in the class with them, on Wednesdays she shoots hoops at the middle school.
“I just love making the middle schoolers day, you never know what they have going on, throughout their day or in their life, and I can just talk to them and see how they’re doing," Whisnant said.
In between her group mentoring sessions, Whisnant has a cramped class schedule. She is currently working toward her associate's degree to get a CNA license.
“I chose this class, because I’ve had many experiences with my dad in the nursing home facilities, and even hospitals," Whisnant said.
Her father is going through kidney failure from complications with diabetes.
"There are some days he can't even walk because he is so swollen," Whisnant said.
Seeing her father suffer breaks her heart, but it has inspired her to be in the top of her class and become a physician's assistant.
"Most people just do it for the money, but I'm actually doing it for someone I care for," Whisnant said.
Whisnant has been a dedicated cheerleader, cheering for both basketball and football, she leads the team as captain.
"They are wonderful to me, the team helps me get through tough days with school or with stressful days with my family," Whisnant said.
To her surprise she was also crowned homecoming queen this year.
"They called my name that night," Keyona Whisnant 2023 Homecoming Queen," I was so excited my family was there to support me, my father got to see it, it made my day," Whisnant said.
Her hard work has given her a 4.3 GPA, and soon her CNA license, by the time she graduates, so she can work over the summer to help her father and apply to schools to achieve her dream of becoming a physician assistant.
North Carolina House Speaker, Tim Moore presented Whisnant with a $1,000 scholarship to help her achieve her dream. Her principal, guidance counselor, friends and family all attended the event to help her celebrate.