Teen waited to open Duke acceptance letter until visit to mother's grave

Posted January 1, 2021 3:56 p.m. EST
Updated January 1, 2021 7:13 p.m. EST

— A Georgia teen waited 16 hours to find out whether she was accepted to Duke University so she could share the moment with her dead mother.

Skylar Hughes was 11 when her mother, Rasheda Hughes, suffered a brain aneurysm and fell into a coma almost six years ago. Rasheda Hughes died the following year.

"She was such a vibrant woman, and I get a lot of my qualities from her," Skylar said Friday. "She’s definitely my biggest inspiration."

Since then, she said, she routinely visits her mother's grave to talk to her.

"I probably go there once every week or once every two weeks," she said. "I bring lunch out there, and I just like catch her up to my life because I know she would want to be involved."

So, a college acceptance was no different. Skylar applied early decision to Duke, which she said has been her No. 1 choice for a couple of years.

"I was trying to be realistic with myself so I didn’t have too much of a heartbreak," she said, noting that Duke accepts fewer than one in 10 applicants.

The email from Duke's admissions office arrived on the evening of Dec. 18, but Skylar waited until the following afternoon to open it because she wanted her mother to be part of the experience.

"Before I opened it, me and my dad and my mom, we just all prayed," she said. "I felt like my nerves were heightened because I felt like she was nervous with me."

"I was nervous to open it, but I wasn’t really nervous to let her down because I knew she would be proud of me regardless," she said. "When I clicked the button and saw the blue streamers, I was like, hold on, did I just get in?"

"It was the best feeling in the world," she added. "I was so proud of myself. All my hard work and sacrifices paid off, and it just made me really happy."

Skylar said she wants to study marine biology and hold a Black culture symposium at Duke. But first she needs to come up with the money to attend, saying that her financial aid package doesn't cover all of her costs.

"I’m applying for a lot of scholarships, probably 50 to 75 scholarships," she said, adding that she also has set up a GoFundMe account to raise money.

By Friday, the GoFundMe had already raised more than $23,000 of a $180,000 goal.

Without the money, Skylar said, she will have to pass on Duke and pursue a college degree elsewhere.

"It’s my No. 1 school, so I’m just staying positive, and I’m going to hopefully get scholarships," she said.

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