EVERETT — Caireanna Mills, 17, is a graduating senior at Sequoia High School — and she has come a long way to get there. “She epitomizes a student who has overcome, persevered and achieves to a high standard,” Principal Kelly Shepherd said. Counselor Jaimie Burton has been among the key figures in Mills’ life, in middle school and now at Sequoia.
Question: You were recently granted emancipation from your parents. How did it go?
Answer: It went awesome. I told the judge about what I had to overcome. They granted me emancipation. It feels like I have been waiting for it for a really long time. It finally happened.
Q: Tell us a bit about your story.
A: When I was 12, my mom started using again, and she fell short on rent. We didn’t have power and electricity. We didn’t have money to pay bills. Eventually we got evicted, and we became homeless. Ever since then, I’ve been couch-surfing; I haven’t been with my parents. But I’ve been able to find housing and go to school, and make sure I take the right steps to further my independence and my future.
Q: For so many years, it sounds like it must have been pretty scary.
A: There were a lot of times where I’d have to go charge my mom’s phone at night at somewhere because we didn’t have electricity, or we would do illegal things to get electricity, and we were using our squatting rights, and there were a lot of people living in and out of the house. It was a really bad situation.
Q: What is it like to be at this stage, given everything you’ve gone through and now looking ahead to graduation?
A: It feels like I never would have been in this situation, ever. I am trying to imagine myself when I was younger, and I had no idea where my life was going to go. I didn’t really think about it. I just was kind of like, “This is my life.” My life did a 360 somehow. And I know I’m never going to follow the same path that my parents did. I’m never going to have that life, ever.
You know what’s funny? It kind of reminds me of “The Glass Castle” in a way. Sequoia had us read the book. When I read it, I was like, “Oh my god, this is so my life.”
Q: What’s next for you?
A: This year I actually only need two more credits to graduate. I’m going to do this thing called Running Start. It’s where you’re still a high school student and you can just go to college and get college credits and a college education while you’re still in high school. I also plan to go to a four-year university; I’m not sure where yet. After that, I’d like to go to the police academy.
Q: So you have very clear goals for yourself. Did it take awhile?
A: One day it just came to me that I want to be a police officer. I went on a ridealong with a female police officer, which was really cool.
Q: How did you get connected with that?
A: At Sequoia we have career speaker days, and one of the speakers was a police officer. After they spoke, I went up to the police officer and asked him — his name is Mr. Tim Reeves — I asked him about ridealongs. …
I didn’t realize but — in middle school I didn’t go to school at all. I was on the Becca Bill because of my family issues and stuff. But Jaimie would send a police officer to my house to take me to my middle school. I didn’t realize until afterwards, but that’s who the police officer was.
Then he sees me today — and I’m doing good and about ready to graduate.
Q: What middle school did you go to?
A: I went to Eisenhower Middle School.
Q: What elementary school?
A: I went to a lot of different elementary schools: Jackson, Lowell, Hawthorne, a lot of different ones when I was younger. I went to Port Gardner. I was “homeschooled” for a year. I’ve gone to a couple different high schools, too. My freshman year I went to Cascade. Then I went to school in Alaska, which was pretty cool because the mascot, they were both bears, the Bruin bears.
Q: What brought you to Alaska?
A: It was a couch-surfing situation (with extended family). It was always temporary places. They’d say, “You can stay here temporarily.”
Q: That must have been difficult, moving around so much.
A: I missed out on a lot of education when I was younger, especially math-wise. I try to work on it. Recently I moved again. I had nowhere to go, last year. I was able to find housing because of some really nice people. Now it’s kind of like my forever home kind of.
So, last year I was living with a friend and I thought I would be able to live with them until I was 18. But family events happened — someone in their family passed away, and there was a lot of stress — so they decided I needed to find somewhere. So I came to school the next day, super worried. Jaimie and Kelly were able to find somebody they know to take me into their home.
Q: It sounds like you’ve found a family here.
A: How much Sequoia has done for me is mind-blowing. Without Sequoia, I don’t know where I’d be — and I’m not just saying that. They really love and care about me. They really do. Which, it’s going to be sad, graduating. But it’s a good thing, you know. And I’ll always know who I can count on.
Melissa Slager: firstname.lastname@example.org; 425-339-3432.