BLOOMINGTON - Fossette "Cookie" Anderson was rescued as an 8½-month-old from a Milwaukee crack house where she slept on a bare mattress with a thin blanket in the winter.
Her health was poor, and she later was found to have attention deficit disorder.
But that didn't stop the new Bloomington High School graduate from receiving top honors Friday evening at the 16th annual Minority Academic Achievement Recognition Ceremony. The crowd of about 900 people at Illinois Wesleyan University's Shirk Center included 213 fifth- through 12th-graders on honor rolls at more than two dozen schools, said IWU spokesman Carl Tiechman.
"If your mind can conceive it and your heart believe it, you will achieve it," said Anderson, who was the event's youth keynote speaker. This is the sixth year she was honored at the ceremony.
The Rev. Colleen Bennett of the City of Refuge Church of God and Christ said parents have to be children's main defense against today's social ills.
"It's a dangerous, perilous, dark time where youth are lost to street crime," she told the crowd. "We're living in neighborhoods where children never hear the word 'god' except in curses."
For children who have no or bad parents, other adults need to step in, she said.
"We must be our children's heroes," she said.
Like Anderson, she urged the students to be "high achievers and strong believers." She told them, "Don't follow the crowd; … turn the crowd around."
Anderson ended up in the care of her uncle and aunt, Howard and Cynthia Davidson, now of Bloomington, when she was a baby, and they guided her to success.
"My mom always tells me, 'Shoot for the moon, and you'll always land among the stars.' My dad is always saying this to me: 'You have done really well. Now, what's next?'"
She added, "I couldn't have had two stronger adults blazing the trail before me when it came to ensuring the public school system gave me what the law requires - a fair and equitable education."
The Heartland Community College-bound student was awarded a laptop computer at the event.
More than 770 students in Bloomington-Normal and Towanda qualified academically for the honor, but many chose not to attend.