Character is often found in those determined to overcome the obstacles life places in front of them.
Pequot Lakes High School senior Carlie Nixon has overcome a number of obstacles, and has apparently done so with a smile.
“Carlie is a person who I think embodies what grit is about,” PLHS social studies teacher Dan Moddes said. “In a very tough academic year in general for people, Carlie definitely had tough days, but in the end she found that other gear and would just not let it stop her.”
Nixon, the daughter of Linda Janssen, had never heard of the Student of Character distinction before being nominated, and admitted she thought it was a joke when Principal Aaron Nelson told her.
“The principal told me it was not a joke and is in fact real, and I just started crying,” Nixon said. “I was just so happy.”
Sourcewell sponsors the Students of Character recognition. Nominees are students in the region who are recognized for their quiet leadership, perseverance and dedication to their community, school and fellow students.
"She just has this can-do attitude, even when she faces things that most kids here would never even fathom. She has this grit that I think a lot of kids would really be impressed by if they knew her story."
— Dan Moddes, PLHS teacher
Nixon learned determination early in life - before moving to the area from Texas - when she and her mother struggled at times to make ends meet, and sometimes struggled to find a place to live.
“We were church-hopping about every week,” Nixon said. “My mom got the cot and I had the floor. Eventually my uncle took us in so we were living with him for a while, and he helped us find an apartment.”
The two continued to move from place to place, however, until settling where they are now, but it was then that Nixon’s mother soon began having health issues.
“She's been in the hospital, I think, three times this year so far,” Nixon said. “A couple weeks ago, I actually had to call 911 for my mom because she was almost having a heart attack. That was a terrifying thing. I went to the hospital with her, but I continued to go to school and to work, and just pretended like nothing happened until one day I just had a mental breakdown.”
She confided in Moddes - who noticed Nixon wasn’t her usual self - and Moddes helped some of her other teachers understand her situation as Nixon worked virtually full time on top of school to maintain a home life.
"There were times I felt like I was doing all these things and nobody was appreciating it - I just felt unseen."
— Carlie Nixon, PLHS senior
She said the struggles she has dealt with over the past few years have really taught her many valuable lessons in independence. Despite being so independent in the face of adversity, Moddes said she maintains a wonderfully positive mindset.
“She just has this can-do attitude, even when she faces things that most kids here would never even fathom,” Moddes said. “She has this grit that I think a lot of kids would really be impressed by if they knew her story.”
While dealing with her struggles, Nixon said receiving the news that she was named a Student of Character was a bright spot in her school year.
“There were times I felt like I was doing all these things and nobody was appreciating it - I just felt unseen,” Nixon said. “Mr. Nelson took me out of class and told me about the award that I got, and I just felt this weight being lifted off my shoulders, like they were saying, ‘Hey, you're being noticed for what you're doing for yourself and for others and for this school.’ It was just a really nice surprise.”
Though she felt unnoticed at times, a handful of teachers saw many little things in her that were a positive trait for a student, and even a classroom.
“She is kind of a ray of hope here,” Moddes said. “She is one of those people where, if I’m having a bad day and I see her in the hallway, she will brighten up my day with a smile. You can just see the energy she has as she is plugging away at things, and I think it’s contagious.”
After graduating high school, Nixon plans to attend Central Lakes College to study information technology. She was inspired by her older brother, Brandon, who already works in the field and has helped her enroll in online courses to get a head start on her career path.
As she prepares for graduation, she hopes to show her gratitude to those who have had faith in her over the months and years, even when she didn’t have faith in herself.
“The sky is the limit for her,” Moddes said. “Just because she has been thrown so many challenges - and she has come up nicked at times, but certainly tougher - and she always handles them with grace. It’s amazing because with what I know she has gone through, I would think someone like that would be kind of salty on life, and she is just the opposite.”
Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.