All Autumn Boone wanted to do this past year was help her family.

Autumn, her mom and six siblings were homeless after their previous housing situation turned sour. They ended up living with Autumn’s grandmother. Still, Autumn thought she should get a job and pitch in by paying rent and putting food on the table.

But Autumn’s mother, who worked several jobs to make ends meet, reassured her daughter that she was doing the right thing by taking care of her brothers and sisters and, more importantly, focusing on school.

It was difficult to do both — especially as all of the children were in remote learning — but Autumn made it work. That balancing act of being a caretaker and a good student paid off.  In June, Autumn graduated from Fort Worth ISD’s Eastern Hills High School. With her 4.36 GPA, she secured the No. 1 spot in her graduating class.

Accepted

Autumn Boone, this year’s valedictorian at Eastern Hills High School, was accepted into four universities. They are:

  • University of Texas at Austin
  • University of Texas at San Antonio
  • Texas Wesleyan University
  • Dallas Baptist University

“Her life is not easy, but she didn’t let it stop her,” Jimyria Scott, Autumn’s track coach, told the Fort Worth Report. “I don’t think she realized what she had accomplished or what she was accomplishing and all the adversity that was before her — and she didn’t use it as an excuse.”

Next month, Autumn will make the three-hour trek south on Interstate 35 to start studying at the University of Texas at Austin, where she plans to major in education. The Eastern Hills alumna wants to become a teacher so she can be like the educators who pushed her to be a better student, athlete and community member.

‘She has this eagerness’

Scott was a major influence on the valedictorian. She inspired Autumn to become an English teacher and was a factor in her decision to attend UT-Austin.

“She went out of her way to make sure I made it to track practices, and I was really glad because I would say she’s also a person who gave me encouragement,” Autumn said. 

Scott encouraged Autumn to pursue classes in a program called OnRamps, an initiative through UT-Austin that allows students to earn high school credits and college credits. The class gave Autumn a taste of college and got her hooked on the idea of going to Austin.

“That’s a part of what I do as a coach — I’m going to push them, push my student athletes or anybody in my program,” Scott said. “That’s what I’m supposed to do so I pushed her.”

Scott was there when Autumn needed support after her grandmother died in April. She was the first teacher Autumn told. Autumn was at a breaking point and nearly quit track. Scott consoled her student and told her she did not need to quit. The track coach reminded Autumn her team was a second family to help her through this tough time.

“She was like, ‘You are amazing. You make such a big part of this team. I don’t want to quit just because of something that’s tearing you down emotionally or mentally. I want you to push through it. But I also want you to use (track) as a way to release any anger,’” Autumn said.

Autumn took Scott’s words to heart. Channelling her emotions into track helped and she made it over the most important finish line — graduation. Still, walking the stage was a bittersweet moment for Autumn.

“I was just really hurt she won’t see any of us graduate,” Autumn said of her grandmother.

Autumn Boone’s graduation speech

Anika Payne, a theater teacher at Eastern Hills High School, was another educator who helped Autumn. When Payne first met Autumn, her student radiated a presence that not many students have. 

Payne started teaching at the school in January 2019. Autumn greeted her and welcomed her to the Eastern Hills family.

Payne watched her perform in class. During the pandemic, Autumn was part of a Christmas-themed radio show the school’s theater classes performed. For Payne, Autumn is just a one-of-a-kind student.

“She’s a really cool kid, and she really looks out for her fellow students,” the theater teacher said. “Even though she’s not really going to school for acting, I’ve encouraged her to still look into the drama department because she just has this presence, like she has this eagerness about her that can be applied to almost any situation.”

‘The school system … is not the best’

Autumn’s eagerness and empathy will go a long way when she becomes a teacher. 

“She has a natural ability to lead,” Scott said.

As she has done for her friends and fellow students, Autumn wants to be that educator who helps her students through difficult times, whether it be at home or through a particularly hard lesson. 

“I want to at least contribute and be a part of someone’s story and be glad that I helped them, and they were able to exceed as part of my contribution as well,” she said.

Autumn wants to teach English in South Korea and explore different cultures. She is interested in Asian culture and issues because she shares her father’s love for anime.

Eventually, she wants to make her way back home and teach in Fort Worth ISD. Payne says her former student has the right stuff to be an educator.

Autumn Boone, this year’s valedictorian at Fort Worth ISD’s Eastern Hills High School, sits for a portrait outside of Trinity Coffee House. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“I think that she will be able to create an engaging classroom, and she is so caring and so just attentive to other people’s needs and feelings that I think she’ll be a very compassionate teacher,” Payner said.

Scott has seen firsthand the skills Autumn has that will be crucial when she is in front of students in a class. She knows how to follow procedure and set expectations.

“She has a way of being able to deliver the message that I need to give to the girls (on the track team) and in the way that they need to know she’s encouraging,” Scott said. “She understands meritocracy — what it is to work hard to achieve something.”

The classroom, though, is not where Autumn wants to stay. She wants to rise through the ranks of leadership and become the superintendent of Fort Worth ISD. It sounds unusual for an 18-year-old to say she wants to be the top administrator for her school district, but teachers, including those who she did not know, told her she can do it.

“I would say the school system, as of right now, is not the best. I don’t think it’s ever really been at its full potential, and I feel like, in some way, I want to have an influence to where I want kids to feel valued in school and not feel like, ‘Oh, this is another thing I’m forced to do by law,’” Autumn said. “I want them to actually think of school as a place where they can feel welcome and actually learn.”

As superintendent, Autumn wants to set students on the path to success. She’s still figuring out how to do that.

“I would like to think that as I grow and work toward that goal, the answer will eventually come to me,” Autumn said. “I know I can’t connect with every single student, as that would be difficult, but part of my goal is to make students feel valued and want to learn when they go to school. I really hope I can accomplish that.”

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at jacob.sanchez@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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Jacob Sanchez

Jacob Sanchez is an enterprise reporter for the Fort Worth Report. His work has appeared in the Temple Daily Telegram, The Texas Tribune and the Texas Observer. He is a graduate of St. Edward’s University.

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