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Horgan plays the adult before graduating

When Mikayla Horgan returned from basic training with the Army National Guard, she hardly anticipated coming home to live by herself. She was a high school student after all.

2525826+051216.PEJ_.Shining Star Mikayla Horgan1.jpg
Mikayla Horgan was one of Pequot Lakes’ 2016 Shining Star award recipients. While experiencing hardships above and beyond most students her age, she had no clue anyone noticed, but she learned otherwise. Photo by Travis Grimler

When Mikayla Horgan returned from basic training with the Army National Guard, she hardly anticipated coming home to live by herself. She was a high school student after all.

"She (her mom) had mentioned it on the phone. It's hard when you are in basic because you can barely talk to people back home ..." Horgan said. "You get letters and they get lost. Apparently she told me all about it in a letter, but I never got it. She apparently also mentioned it in a 10-minute phone call, but I didn't understand the extent of it. I didn't realize she actually moved. I thought it was just an idea. When I came back it was really shocking and hard."

While the Pequot Lakes High School senior was away, all she could think of was returning to a sort of normalcy her family had before she left.

"I miss her and my family," Horgan said. "It's hard not to have family here. When I was in basic all I thought about was coming home, watching TV and snuggling with Mom. I came home and haven't had that. It's really hard to be thrown into the adult world without preparing when you are still in high school."

When she came back, she had a new normal, one that changed a lot.

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"She lives two and one half hours away in Bagley with her boyfriend now," Horgan said. "I lived with my aunt and uncle. It was too far away and I would work all the time trying to make money for gas to come from Brainerd to Pequot every day. It was just too hard because I wasn't getting my school work done. Then I moved in with my best friend and it was awesome."

Her support system of her best friend's family and that of her boyfriend kept her strong and kept her in school when she felt like quitting. It especially kept her strong when she faced yet another hardship.

"Then I got into a snowmobile accident and even getting Ramen in the kitchen was hard," Horgan said. "That was in January. I was done by that point. I was so frustrated and felt like nothing could go right and I couldn't do anything. It was really frustrating. Then I started getting better and moved into my own house. Now I have all of those responsibilities and I'm trying to do high school and figure out how to work and go to school all at the same time."

Horgan fought through it all and found a way to do her work as a certified nursing assistant at Golden Horizons in Crosslake and complete homework at school, while feeling not quite adult and not quite student.

"I have help from LSS (Lutheran Social Services), but I don't feel like an adult," Horgan said. "I also don't feel like a high schooler. I just wanted to quit high school about seven times, but I didn't. I felt like I have too many issues to begin to think about other than high school. That was my bottom for a while and I was focusing on money and paying for the things that needed to be paid for. I put high school on the back burner and I knew I couldn't do that."

All the while, Horgan had no idea that anyone was paying attention to her hardships, and she had no clue that someone thought she deserved an award for thriving through hardships.

"I was shocked when they told me I got the (National Joint Powers Alliance Shining Star) award," Horgan said. "I didn't think anyone knew I was struggling or going through a lot. I was working really hard. I also didn't think what I was going through wasn't what people go through. I see it now, but I didn't see it then. It was really cool to see that someone recognized that I was working hard."

Pequot Lakes High School principal Chip Rankin had nominated her, and surprised her when he told her about the little-known honor.

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"It was a few months before," Horgan said. "I was walking down the hall and he yelled at me. He said, 'I need to see you in my office.' I was so nervous. I went to the office and he told me it was good new and I was being awarded for my hard work. It was the best thing ever."

Horgan has some recovery time left from her January accident, after which she will go into Advanced Individual Training. She is going to learn to fix tanks, after which she isn't sure what to do, though she leans toward welding and veterinarian work. She said her decision to become an American soldier was inspired by someone very special to her, a woman who had also been in the military.

"She's my biggest hero," Horgan said. "I know my mom's gone through a lot in my life and I just wanted to be able to achieve half of what she was able to."

She said basic training is all a mental training to get people in the right "mindset" to do anything, and perhaps that training will help her with her ultimate goal.

"My goal is just to be stable and be happy," Horgan said. "I know everything works itself out, but I just need to trust and be happy."

Mikayla Horgan was one of Pequot Lakes’ 2016 Shining Star award recipients. While experiencing hardships above and beyond most students her age, she had no clue anyone noticed, but she learned otherwise. Photo by Travis Grimler
Mikayla Horgan was one of Pequot Lakes’ 2016 Shining Star award recipients. While experiencing hardships above and beyond most students her age, she had no clue anyone noticed, but she learned otherwise. Photo by Travis Grimler

Related Topics: PEQUOT LAKES HIGH SCHOOL
Travis Grimler began work at the Echo Journal Jan. 2 of 2013 while the publication was still split in two as the Pine River Journal and Lake Country Echo. He is a full time reporter/photographer/videographer for the paper and operates primarily out of the northern stretch of the coverage area (Hackensack to Jenkins).
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