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Graduating junior collects 45+ college acceptances, $1 million in scholarship offers

RESERVE — Future pediatric surgeon Jai Gaines will be only 16 years old when she starts classes this fall on a full academic scholarship to Miles College in Alabama, five and a half hours away from her hometown in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Gaines is graduating from East St. John High School in Reserve a full year early. Since January 2021, she has collected 46 college acceptance letters and counting, with more than $1 million in scholarship offers.

“I started applying for colleges early this semester because I was still classified as an 11th grader in the fall,” Gaines explained.

There hasn’t been a dull moment since. Gaines and her family devised a portfolio system with spreadsheets to track all of her college acceptances, which included entry into local programs such as LSU, UNO, Southern and Grambling, in addition to schools as far away as Ohio. Many of the acceptance letters came with admission into honors college programs.

With so many options to choose from, Gaines made her collegiate choice with her future career in mind.

“After high school, I am going to pursue biology pre-med in hopes of becoming a pediatric surgeon. I have always been interested in health, medicine and surgery, and I’m also really good with kids,” Gaines said. “Choosing a college was a hard decision. I kept pushing back my final decision date, but after talking to multiple alumni and students who are currently at Miles and participating in the biology pre-med program, I just knew that it would be the right fit for me.”

Gaines has prepared for a future in the medical field throughout her high school career. She’s taken health science and medical terminology classes, and she has served as a state ambassador for the LA GEAR UP program since seventh grade. The summer before COVID-19, she attended the ULM President’s Academy and worked with different medical specialists throughout the week on campus.
Gaines was also a part of 4-H, Beta Club, Glee Club, Interact Club, cheerleading, band, and track and field during her time at East St. John. She’s graduating with a 3.9206 GPA.

“I’ve made it a goal of mine to be active in college. Instead of just studying, studying, studying, I want to also participate in student government and different clubs and organizations. I will also be continuing track and field throughout my college career,” she said.

The college application process has been bittersweet for Gaines’ mother, East St. John Preparatory Academy Principal Johnika Gayden-Gaines.

“People that know me personally know that I struggled with accepting that she will be graduating early because she is just a baby, but I realize that she is ready and she has already accomplished so much,” Gayden-Gaines said.

She added that her daughter’s early graduation was a community effort that wouldn’t have been possible without the teachers, counselors and friends who have helped along the way.

“This is an achievement for our entire community, our church family and her middle school teachers who pushed her to be at her best,” Gayden-Gaines said. “Jai has a platform now, and she has been such an inspiration to others. Since people know she’s graduating early, she’s had people reaching out to her to ask her about the process.”

Gaines said her journey to an early graduation began when she earned 6.5 high school credits while in middle school.

“I knew I wanted to get out of high school as early as possible knowing that I am going into the medical field and I will be in school for so long,” Gaines said. “I was straightforward with my freshman counselor and let her know I was on a path to graduate early. With that, she helped me get my credits together for my freshman year, and it carried on over to my sophomore year and my junior/senior year.”

It was a little nerve-wracking going into high school and taking classes with 10th through 12th graders in the main building while her peanut butter-colored shirt easily identified her as a freshman. However, she was able to easily adapt and have a full high school experience in a three-year span, and she’s looking forward to building new memories in college.