Keana Berkhalter is like a lot of other teenagers. The Milwaukee (Wis.) Washington High senior is an academic standout and star girls basketball player who dreams of a collegiate future.
Yet Berkhalter is different in a way that becomes most striking during the holiday season: Until a year ago, she never knew a real home.
As first reported by WISN.com, Berkhalter was abandoned by both her mother and father in her early years and was passed from foster home to foster home ever since. During her junior season, the teen was worried about finding a place to stay while simultaneously struggling to discover a way to pass her classes. A year later, the teen is a stable member of the Boyd family, whose patriarch Marlon Boyd is her girls basketball coach at Washington.
The move into the Boyd family came at the behest of Boyd himself, who noticed his star athlete frequently in tears and struggling in class. After eventually dragging Berkhalter's struggles out of her, Boyd discovered that the teen desperately needed a stable home. He wasted little time in stepping forward to provide that nurturing environment off the court himself.
"She felt embarrassed, but I had to let her know that, 'Now you're here at Washington. We're family. We don't abandon our kids,'" Boyd told WISN.com. "Hardships build character. It makes you who you're going to be."
Berkhalter has taken that last sentence to heart, using her new home and family -- the Boyds also have three other children -- as a launching pad toward personal success. In a single year, Berkhalter's GPA shot up to 3.6, a mark which made her the valedictorian of her Washington High class, all while she continued to star on the court for Boyd's Washington High squad. Her achievements also earned Berkhalter a scholarship, which she was awarded on Wednesday.
For all her own efforts, Berkhalter passes her own praise on to the family that went out of their way to take her in at the time she needed it most, all while expressing a sentiment that her new adoptive father has helped drill into the very essence of her personality.
"I mean, I commend him because any other person would be like, 'It's just too much work.' Him and his wife actually took the classes to become foster parents, let them come in and inspect the house, stuff that takes time and patience," Berkhalter said. …
"I would say I'm most thankful for my hardships, as crazy as it sounds. That's the truth."