“No matter your circumstances, troche you don’t have to become your circumstances.” John Marshall High School senior Mercedes Hanks didn’t grow up with the best childhood experience. Death in the family, medicine drug addiction and financial difficulties all played a role in her life. However, though she went through hard times, she didn’t let them affect her ability to succeed. It’s because of this that she rarely discusses her home life with others. “I didn’t want to feel like I was someone’s charity case,” Mercedes said in reference to keeping her family life private.
Up until she was in the 7th grade, Mercedes didn’t really see herself as a leader or succeeding. She said she knew she had the potential, but just never used it. She was in regular classes and adds that her teachers also never saw her potential, so she was just another face in the crowd. This was until she missed her Standards of Learning (SOL) test date in 7th grade and had to take her make-up with the advanced class. “I went in there and got a 600, that’s the highest score you can get,” Mercedes said. “That was the year that I realized that I could actually be a leader.” By the time she had reached high school, she was placed in honors classes.
Mercedes’ rise to the top did not stop there. “At the end of my freshman year, I was ranked number four in my class. I went to my counselor and I told her that I was going to be number one. I was going to work to be number one, and at the end of my sophomore year of high school I became number one in my class. I’ve been number one ever since.”
She said she owes her success and drive to her grandmother, Gloria Jean Hanks, who passed away last summer. She says her grandmother is the reason she is the way she is today. “She played a major role in my life. When my mom wasn’t there for me, she was always there. My grandma was my person,” Mercedes said. “We never had it easy, and when I wanted to give up she wouldn’t let me. When I didn’t believe in myself, she believed in me … She always pushed me, that’s why I persevere the way I do today.”
Looking toward the future, Mercedes plans to go to college to potentially double major in pre-law and psychology. She said she thinks the two will work well together, but she is still undecided on how she wants to combine them into a professional career. If she were to be a lawyer, she said she would want to be a marriage or entertainment lawyer. If she chose the psychologist route, she would want to be a teen psychologist because “I see a lot that teens go through.” Mercedes has already been accepted to the University of Virginia, but come fall she hopes to go to James Madison University.