Sarah Tucker lost the biggest part of her support system during her senior year in high school – her mother.

To honor her, Tucker, 18, continued to dedicate herself to hard work and academic excellence, in the midst of her grief.

“My whole life, growing up, my mom was battling cancer. She was a fighter and she taught me and my sister that if we work hard, we can get anything in life that we want,” Tucker said. “I know she’s watching over me and I want to make her proud.”

Tucker, a 2016 Akron Beacon Journal Star Student, will graduate on Wednesday in the top 10 percent of her Ellet High School class with an honors diploma. Additionally, she has excelled in the University of Akron’s College Credit Plus program.

Deborah Christy, the Ellet High School counselor who nominated Tucker, describes her as an inspiration to her classmates.

“Sarah’s tenacity to remain focused on her post-secondary courses and AP courses while working part-time is impressive, despite [her personal loss],” Christy said. “Sarah has had to advocate for herself and become resourceful.”

During her senior year in high school, Tucker made a decision to give up band and track to spend more time with her mother, who passed away in January.

She said the support of family, friends and her school community has helped her cope with her grief.

“It was really difficult watching her fight through the illness, but I’m glad I had that extra time with my mom,” she said. “She will always be with me because I will always remember our special bond and how she only wanted what was best for both me and my sister.”

She said her sister, Kristyn, 27, has been her biggest source of encouragement and support during their mother’s illness and after her death. Tucker now lives with her older sister.

She said her older sister has always modeled what their mother taught them – hard work leads to success.

Kristyn Tucker said that while she is flattered that her younger sister sees her as a role model, it is Sarah who has inspired her.

“She’s very driven. She works really hard for what she wants. She won’t accept excuses and she doesn’t give excuses,” the older sister said. “She’s loyal and a good friend and a really good girl. It’s amazing how she pulled everything together with everything that was going on. We leaned on each other a lot.”

She said it is fitting that her younger sister aspires to be a pediatric oncologist because she is kind and caring.

Tucker, an Innovation Generation scholarship recipient, plans to attend the University of Akron this fall to pursue an undergraduate degree in biology/pre-med.

“I always thought it would be nice to help someone else and I want to do something with children. Being with my mom really taught me the importance of being there for others. I’m thinking maybe as a pediatric oncologist, I can help children early in life and hopefully make a difference,” Tucker said. “I really looked up to my mom. She taught us to be our own person and to be strong. I’m just trying to do that.”

Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or cjenkins@thebeaconjournal.com. She can be followed at www.twitter.com/ColetteMJenkins.