Belle Glade, Fla. – Eighteenyear-old Ja’Leaha Thornton of Belle Glade is the valedictorian of her class at Glades Central High School with a 4.9 GPA. She’s also captain of the cheerleaders and homecoming queen. She’s been accepted to 72 colleges. She’s also the caretaker of her grandmother who suffered from cancer.

“I love everything I do,” said Thornton. “I love learning new things, and instead of looking at it as a burden, I look at it as a benefit.”

She was pursued by The University of Miami, University of Florida, Florida State University, the University of South Florida and numerous HBCUs, but said she chose historically Black Xavier University of Louisiana because the school has the best preparation programs for Black doctors.

“I plan to go to medical school and study forensic psychiatry” to help solve crimes and assure everyone a fair trial, she said. “I will look at their background and determine if they’re mentally capable of standing trial. I also want to travel the world to get a sketch of all cultures, so that I can better understand and help all people.”

Her mother and grandmother, both college graduates, have had a major impact on her, she said, but mostly she considers herself a great student of knowledge. “I just love learning new things,” she said. “I’m a hands-on person. I learned my craft. I feel like knowledge is the key to success. I’ve always wanted to make change and I make the best out of everything. Even helping my grandmother – I see it as a gift. I benefit from that.”

Sherri Boyce, her Glades Central guidance counselor said Thornton “is the total package. She is amazing,” adding, “And she’s the caretaker of her grandmother. She’s incredible.” Plus, “She does it all with such grace,” said Boyce. “I feel lucky to know her.”

Her mother, Chiquitia Thornton, said Ja’Leaha “loves learning everything and she has always put her education first. No partying and any of that. She values knowledge. Words can’t express how proud I am of my child. I have no words for it,” she said, adding, “That’s my only child, so I don’t know what I’m going to do!” when the teen goes off to Louisiana this fall.

Ja’Leaha said family has been her main inspiration and motivation, and her faith in God has guided her. Her Uncle Lee King has been the perfect father figure, she said, her grandmother Beverly Putman is her heartbeat, and of course her mom. Her solution to them being apart come fall, she said, is “They can move up there with me. I hope so.”