The consequence of mental health has always been a reality to Lilli Hicks.

Depression has already affected people she loves, which became the number one driving factor in her career choice.

The Red Oak High salutatorian was born and raised in Red Oak, living in the same house her entire life. Hicks saw it only fitting to speak about her distinguished honor where her educational career began — H.A. Wooden Elementary.

Hicks sat in the principal's office and reflected on her upbringing and life events that made her the person she is today. The elementary staff that walked by even made an effort to say hello and congratulate the salutatorian.

During her senior year, Hicks made strides on campus to bring awareness to mental health disorders by establishing the Psychology Club. After high school, she plans to continue advocating for mental health services and hopes to help those who cannot help themselves.

"It's something that I'm super passionate about," Hicks explained. "I like to help people, and I wasn't sure how I was going to go about that. I would like to say that I am able to make a connection with people fairly quickly, and I think I want to use that gift to try and help other people."

Angela Thomas, an AP psychology teacher, singled Hicks and another student out to create the program that has brought in guest speakers that usually have 50 students in attendance.

Hicks earned a top score on the AP psychology exam and expressed to Thomas her passion for the subject.

"She helped set up the 'Hi, How Are You Day,' We had two guest speakers that both had to do with identifying when you're friends are having problems," Thomas elaborated.

"One of our Four Talons is 'leaving a legacy' and she has done that," Thomas added.

Hicks will attend the University of Texas at Austin to major in psychology with the intent to finish medical school to become a psychiatrist. Her fascination with medicine stems from her mother and father's work in the medical field, but her fear of blood made her question where she fit in the profession.

When she saw the UT campus for herself, she thought, "It's beautiful and so different from anything I'm used to, and I really like different — something so amazing. I've never felt that feeling before."

On Aug. 23, Hicks will move in with her roommate, who she met on Twitter, and is also studying psychology.

The path to UT was not easy, either. Hicks sacrificed hobbies to achieve the salutatorian title and was presented a new outlook on life after an unforeseeable life event.

For Hicks, the title "means that I've worked hard and it has paid off, and it's time for me to give back and show people — cause I didn't come from a lot we barely got by. We weren't able to do a lot of things that others do."

The turning point in the Hicks household occurred when her father's colon ruptured while she was in the fifth grade. It resulted in a week in the intensive care unit.

"That's my superhero; that's my dad, and seeing him weak was like, 'What? This is not supposed to happen to a little kid.' Luckily, the doctors were incredible, and he's doing great now," Hicks elaborated.

The life event made the Hicks family recognize the fragility of life and focused on the importance of happiness and love.

In junior high, Hicks found a passion for playing volleyball and continued the sport up until she heard class rankings her sophomore year. Hicks was second from the top.

Hicks participates in the Hawk Scholars program that requires students to attend rigorous dual credit courses to graduate with an associate's degree. Managing collegiate homework and practices became difficult, which led to the sacrifice of sports to excel in academia.

"To say that I already have my associate's degree is pretty awesome," Hicks emphasized.

One thing that most people might not notice about Hicks is the tattoo on her left wrist that displays her birth date in Roman numerals — Nov. 3, 2000.

"It can seem kind of selfish, and I kind of agree," Hicks said. "I think a lot of people don't know that I don't have the best self-confidence and trying to find my purpose has been really tricky, and I have super high expectations for myself. So this is a reminder that I am here for a reason."

If Hicks could go back in time and speak to her freshmen self, she'd say, "Be more confident, have more faith in yourself."

Hicks went on to express her thanks to Red Oak ISD teachers, staff, administration and most importantly her family who supported her.

"Especially with Dr. Goddard coming here," Hicks noted. "What a transformation this district has seen. The teachers are always available; the counselors are always available. I think they do a good job at emphasizing the student first no matter what, and I think that has really helped me realize all these people are working hard for us and it's time to give it back to them and work hard too."

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Ashley Ford | @aford_news | 469-517-1450