Heather Eastaugh knows what it takes to flourish in adverse conditions.
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Eastaugh, 23, will graduate from the University of Alaska Southeast today after enduring a number of peaks and valleys to receive a higher education.
She was placed into foster care while attending Wrangell High School due to "difficult family circumstances," she said. After turning 18 years old during her junior year she had to fend for herself and pay her own way her senior year.
"I had to work as many odd jobs after school as possible," she said.
While balancing school and work, she would stay up late working on a portfolio to get into art school. After one semester at Cornish College of the Arts, Eastaugh transferred and later earned an Associate in Arts degree from nearby Seattle Central Community College.
She then decided to come back home to Alaska for better tuition rates and has earned a Bachelor of Liberal Arts degree with an art emphasis and English minor. Her cumulative grade-point average is 3.82 on a 4.0 scale, she said.
Eastaugh said the adversity always made her work harder to accomplish her goals.
"Even though it was very difficult, it gave me some life skills that tend to be great assets."
UAS art professor Alice Tersteeg said Eastaugh is a standout student with a strong work ethic.
"She is an incredible self-starter," Tersteeg said. "I have never seen anyone as motivated as she is. She has her life planned out and she knows exactly what she is going to be doing for the next four or five years - unlike most of us."
Eastaugh has not quenched her thirst for education and will be moving north this month to begin pursuing an accounting degree at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. After that she plans to go to graduate school.
"I'm trying to get a little more options," she said.
While going to school and working for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Eastaugh also was helping to financially support her mother back east.
"I found that taking care of someone else forces you to grow up," she said. "I would say that is one of the biggest learning experiences I've had."
Eastaugh said needing to become financially independent while still in high school almost caused her to leave school, even though she did well academically.
"It tends to wear you down after a while," she said. "Just out of pure exhaustion, I thought about dropping out, but I didn't like my options."
Eastaugh said she doesn't want pity or sympathy from anyone just because her journey toward graduation was difficult.
"I consider myself to be a very strong person," she said.
"She might run into problems here and there, but she doesn't let it throw her," Tersteeg said. "She just finds a way to solve the problem. She's just amazing."