Leila Hilliard

Having endured a challenging first half of high school—navigating COVID-19, balancing difficult classes, and battling several severe injuries—I did not think I was ready to take on such a change as SAS and its rigorous program. What held me back the most from making a change in my academics was my comfort in my school environment. However, that was what also encouraged me to make a change. My comfort was due to a lack of challenge—I felt stuck in place with no motivation to try something new. SAS presented an opportunity like no other—finish high school with an AA degree and experience a new environment with people doing the same. This is what ultimately led me to choose SAS, and my choice is one that has changed my life.

Acclimating myself to the environment at SAS proved easier than I thought, doing so alongside my junior classmates, who also made a big decisions to leave the environments in which they were comfortable in. This shared experience immediately helped us all to understand each other in a way many people could not and form bonds that would not be broken. The friends I made in my two-year journey are ones that I hope to have in my life forever. Memories made with them, like long afternoons and nights studying for calculus or lunches spent playing Monopoly Deal card games are unforgettable ones that supplemented my experience.

As a student and person, I grew in ways I never imagined. Ms. T knew how to help me develop as a writer and a thinker by pushing me to be more insightful with every essay or analysis. I learned to love history and math thanks to Ms. Verde, Mrs. Morales, and Mrs. Cabañez. I received invaluable guidance from Mr. Fraga and Mr. Lindsay as they supported me in my goals of developing as a student inside and outside the classroom. Through them, I learned it was possible to be a great high school and college student while also being heavily involved in extracurricular activities which I would use for success in college and award applications, such as having been honored with a Silver Knight nomination or being accepted to my college of choice.

I proved my sophomore self wrong by thriving in an environment I once feared for the large change it would bring to my life. Yes, I endured a rigorous academic program, but I showed myself I could do it with effort and assistance from my teachers and peers. Challenging myself brought growth beyond compare.

When I dwell on my time at such an amazing place, I cherish all I learned, the experiences I had, and the people I met. Starting a new journey at SAS in the middle of my high school career was not an easy task, nor was it a decision I made lightly. However, I knew that I would finish my two years with a readiness for and confidence in my future like no other. As I move on to a new chapter in my life, as a new addition to the University of Florida honors program, I am forever grateful for SAS and how it shaped me into the student, leader, and friend I am today. I’ve reached the end of my time as an SAS student, but I will always be a White Tiger.

Leila Hilliard, 
School for Advanced Studies Kendall, Class of 2024
University of Florida, Class of 2028