A typical day for Van Horn High School graduate Cierra Sua was this: Wake up around 5 a.m., attend seminary at her church at 5:45 a.m., arrive at school around 7 a.m., go to either sports practice or student council meetings after class, eat dinner, sleep and repeat.

Despite Sua’s busy schedule, she was able to maintain a 4.17 grade point average. She was captain of Van Horn’s volleyball team, edited the high school’s yearbook and served as secretary for Van Horn’s student council. All that hard work has brought her a full-ride scholarship to attend the University of Utah in Salt Lake City this fall, courtesy of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“It is surreal,” she said about being a Gates Millennium Scholar. “A huge blessing.”

The Gates Millennium Scholars Program selects 1,000 students across the country each year to attend a college or university of their choice. To be considered for a GMS scholarship, a student has to be a minority, attain a 3.3 GPA or higher, demonstrate leadership qualities and meet Federal Pell Grant eligibility requirements.

Sua described the application process as a feat in itself. She said she had been working on applying for the scholarship since the beginning of the past school year and completed it this February. The process consisted of a 22-page application and eight essays in which she had to demonstrate her leadership and explain how she overcame obstacles.

“They wanted to know everything.”

Fortunately, the Independence student was selected to be a recipient of the scholarship in April. Approximately 24,000 students applied for the award nationwide. She is one of only two recipients from Missouri this year – the other is Derrick Parker from Lincoln College Prep in Kansas City. She said if it wasn’t for this financial assistance, she probably wouldn’t be able to attend a university.

“My dad lost his job and my mom stays at home with my brothers and sisters.” Sua has six other siblings, ranging from 27 to 7-years-old, and five of them still live at home. But the big family is very close, she said. Her brother, who is around her age, was her best friend throughout high school. She said her older sister’s past academic achievements and involvement in extracurricular activities also served as a driving force for a hard work ethic.

Sua's parents also wanted her to work hard.

“My parents have the same expectations for each of us. They do not necessarily want us to do a lot, but exceed in whatever you do.”

Surprisingly, Sua said she didn’t really spend much time with her homework or studies outside of school due to her active schedule. Other than reading 30 minutes each night, she simply paid attention in class and completed her homework at school. She said effective time management brought her academic success.

“I got things done and used my time wisely,” she added. “My friends had loads and loads of homework and wondered why I was always done early.”

Sua plans to become an elementary school teacher and will major in education while attending University of Utah. She decided she wanted to become a teacher when she was an elementary student herself. Plus, two Van Horn teachers inspired her to pursue a career in education.

“They were definitely an influence on me wanting to become a teacher,” she said about choir teacher Erin Barrier and business teacher Laura Solomon, also her student council adviser. “They taught life lessons and were someone I could model myself after.”

Barrier taught Sua to “accept and love people, even though it may be difficult at times,” while Solomon told her about “real world things,” such as everything in life is not perfect and make the best of it.

“Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

As for her alma mater, Sua said Van Horn’s student body sees it as challenge to rid their reputation of being the underdog in the district.

“Students are wanting to become more involved with their school through clubs and sports. There is a sense of unity, and although not perfect, they are becoming more accepting of one another.”

Sports, she said, is where she made all of her friends. Sua played a trio of sports all four years of high school: volleyball, basketball and soccer. Her most memorable moment at Van Horn High School was playing in a district soccer game that was dedicated to a teammate who passed away in 2012. And for fun and recreation, she considered being in sports and participating in extracurricular activities as the

Sua advises incoming high school freshmen that hard work and dedication are crucial for success.

“If you want something bad enough, you have to work towards it – even if it may seem impossible to achieve. No achievement is too small.”