FORTVILLE — Shelby Bernard thinks she’s just lucky.

Like hundreds of Hancock County students, the Mt. Vernon High School senior is set to graduate this month; what sets her apart is her journey to this point.

While so many of her peers focused on their day-to-day high school experience, Bernard always had her sights set on the next chapter in her education.

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As a 21st Century Scholar, Bernard will receive tuition assistance next year at college, but going away to school also depended on her saving the money to cover other expenses. So, for the past four years, Bernard juggled schoolwork and a work schedule averaging 32 hours a week.

In the fall, Bernard will head to IUPUI not only with a strong work ethic but with at least 12 hours of college credit already under her belt, thanks to the Advanced Placement courses she took during high school.

Her family and teachers said Bernard’s hard work is what has led to her success, but Bernard said she was dealt a good hand.

Instead of complaining about having to work the past few years, she said, she embraced it as an opportunity she’s blessed to have. Being able to work so many hours means she’ll have the chance to experience something no one in her family ever has.

“I’m the first one in my family to ever apply to college,” she said. “My family has not always been the wealthiest. I knew if I wanted to go to college, I was going to have to make it happen.”

Bernard works three jobs — at Burger King on Mt. Comfort Road, helping her stepfather with his advertising business and in parking at Klipsch Music Center in Noblesville.

But Bernard decided early on she wasn’t going to allow her work schedule to keep her from doing the things she enjoys. She serves as vice president of Mt. Vernon High School’s Family, Career and Community Leaders of America club and is a student mentor for freshmen.

She also has a heart for her community. This year alone, she’s racked up 93 hours of community service.

Juggling that schedule hasn’t been easy, she said. She doesn’t sleep much, and she used breaks at work to study and work on school assignments.

But her dedication and drive are what will lead her to be successful, Mt. Vernon High School Principal Bernie Campbell said.

There are many high school students who don’t have a job outside of going to school, he said.

“I don’t think if you walked by her in the hall, you’d know what’s she had to do to be successful,” Campbell said. “She certainly could have failed because of the obstacles in her life. Instead, she overcame them.”

Her mother, Rebecca Shannon, said she couldn’t be prouder of her daughter.

Bernard’s every waking moment is filled; she goes to school all day, then heads to work and stays up late to complete homework.

“She’s an exceptional person,” Shannon said. “She has just persevered through everything to follow her dream.”

In the fall, Bernard plans to move to her own apartment in Indianapolis. She’s expected to start classes at IUPUI to pursue a degree in social studies education.

Her love for history and compassion for others is driving her to become a teacher, she said. She added she wants to inspire and help students, just as her teachers have done for her.

“I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” she said.

She’s already had an introduction to teaching. She participated in a cadet teaching course, preparing lessons and teaching them to students at the middle school. She said that experience is one of the best she’s had in her four years of high school.

She said she’s ready for high school to end and the next chapter in her life to begin.

Family and educators hope she’ll find time to enjoy herself — after all, she’s earned it, they said.

But Bernard has grown used to staying busy, and she’ll probably maintain the hard work ethic she had in and outside of the classroom.

“I’ll still have to keep working in college, but I’ll have to enjoy myself at some point,” she said. “Maybe I’ll relax a little bit.”

As long as she keeps pushing herself, she’ll be successful in whatever she chooses to do, Campbell said.

“The A-effort she brings every day, the inner drive, you can’t teach that,” he said. “I hope she realizes she’s got a gift.”

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Samm Quinn is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at 317-477-3275 or squinn@greenfieldreporter.com.