CHICAGO — Eleven years ago, she was diagnosed with autism. Eight years ago, doctors told her that she could not compete academically with her classmates.

But six months ago, Kymera Mitchell, 18, received her first college acceptance letter. More acceptances and full-ride scholarships followed for the graduating senior from Alcott College Prep in North Center. Now, she has 18 acceptances and nine full-ride scholarships.

Kymera’s mom, Kalaveeta Mitchell, said the impact of her daughter’s autism becomes pervasive during moments of stress — at times interfering with comprehension and causing her to stop speaking. But despite the disadvantages Kymera Mitchell faced, she excelled among her peers, maintaining a 4.0 grade point average, winning over $530,000 in scholarship funding and receiving more than 20 academic awards.

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“Don’t worry about anyone that tells you that you can’t do anything, because you can,” Mitchell told the Tribune.

This college application season, Mitchell was rewarded with acceptances from several of the nation’s most selective historically black colleges and universities, such as Howard University and Hampton University, along with many Chicago schools, such as DePaul University, Loyola University and the School of the Art Institute.

“She was the type of student who — even if she didn’t speak out in class — she usually got her work done before anybody else,” said Matt Cohen, her former science teacher at Alcott College Prep. “As long as you gave her space and let her work how she wanted, she would turn in work that was, not only completed, but completed perfectly.”

Kalaveeta Mitchell recalls knowing in her daughter’s early childhood that she was capable of much more than what doctors predicted. Coming home from school, Kymera Mitchell would “rattle off” everything that she learned, walking her mother through the intricacies of the math and reading that she had explored during the day.

“If you have a kid that’s autistic, never ever let anyone in the medical community or the school community tell you that your child ‘cannot’ anything,” Kalaveeta Mitchell said. “There may be levels to what they can do, but I can assure you that they are, a lot of times, smarter than you.”

Along with the classic high school obstacles of standardized tests and the pandemic, Kymera Mitchell also had to navigate being consistently underestimated in her educational environment, according to her Bronzeville-based family.

“I spent the better part of the last 14 years battling CPS, going into due process constantly. Really just fighting for all the support that she was supposed to have, you know, required under the law,” her mother recalled. “Because a lot of times they were trying to dumb her down to other students in her class who were performing not as high as she was.”

But evidence of Kymera’s prowess was not limited to the classroom. On a typical Saturday, she can be found working on a drawing or, just as casually, competing for a medal in the Special Olympics. As a skilled bocce, floor hockey and track and field competitor, she’s won 33 … and counting.

Outside of her athletic ambitions, Mitchell intends on studying digital design with plans on becoming a graphic designer after college.

“Ky had the most amazing artistic creativity out of all my students in my 20 years of CPS,” said Cohen.

Beyond paper accomplishments, Cohen stressed that Mitchell’s most impressive characteristics are her strength and compassion.

“The most important thing that I’ve learned from her is resilience. She’s taught me that, yes, you may have a lot of challenges, but if you really really have the enthusiasm and motivation, you can do anything,” he said. “You’re always gonna have challenges but it’s how you work with them that make you a strong person.”

“Some people have a heart of gold,” he added, “but I think in her, there’s a heart of platinum.”

As for the future of this platinum-hearted student?

Well, the Mitchell family is remaining tight-lipped about the school that Kymera will attend in the fall. All will be revealed Saturday, at a celebration of family and friends, where she will announce her decision.

© 2023 Chicago Tribune
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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