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West High School Senior Graduates Early Despite Global Pandemic

February 17, 2021 -- 17-year-old senior Laileona Sydnor has already graduated from West High School and picked up her diploma. “She was so motivated to finish high school,” said Maria McClain, Laileona Sydnor’s school counselor at West. “She completed all her state and Columbus City School graduation requirements so she could graduate early.”

A high school diploma is one more accomplishment Laileona has achieved in her young life, which has been far from easy. “10 years ago, my little brother died from heart complications when he was two years old,” said Sydnor. “At the age of 12, I was sexually assaulted. I’ve tried to commit suicide. My mom has issues with drugs and is still in recovery.” 

Laileona Sydnor talks candidly about her upbringing. She’s not shy; quite the contrary. Laileona feels talking openly about it might help others recover.

“I refuse to let the abuse define me,” said Laileona Sydnor. “It’s hard, but I’m not going to be the victim. I have a wonderful therapist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital. I currently live with my grandparents and younger brothers.”

In her college essays, Laileona Sydnor writes about her childhood, which also includes a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When Laileona was 16 years old, she was invited by the YMCA Hilltop branch to go to London, England, to celebrate the Y’s 175th Anniversary. “I was the youngest person in the group,” said Sydnor. “The trip was unbelievable. The YMCA paid for everything; hotel, airfare, food, even spending money while I was there.”

Currently, Laileona works several jobs, but her favorite is her part-time position at the National Alliance on Mental Health Ohio (NAMI), a non-profit, grassroots organization that advocates for mental health issues. Laileona Sydnor plans to go to college. “I want to be a professional mental health counselor,” said Sydnor. “I think I have so much to offer and can help teenagers like me.”

Laileona Sydnor’s first choice is The Ohio State University (OSU). “I have dreamed of going to OSU since I was a little girl,” said Sydnor’s whose bedroom is painted scarlet and gray and decorated with everything Buckeye from floor to ceiling.

Laileona is also considering enlisting in the Army National Guard. “I was in Junior Army ROTC for two years at West,” said Sydnor. “Military service could help me pay for my college education.”

During high school, when things got tough, Laileona Sydnor would focus on her school work as a way to cope. She also uses music. “I am a free-style rapper, and several of my songs are posted on YouTube,” said Sydnor.

“Her ability to think on her feet and just belt out a tune is pretty remarkable,” said West High School Counselor Maria McLain. “You can give her words or phrases, and within seconds, Laileona is rapping about it.”

With a diploma in hand, Laileona Sydnor is excited and looking forward to the next step in her journey of serving others.