Sharita Giles, a school administrator, is quick to tell her students she’s not susceptible to sob stories about obstacles thwarting success.
Giles, who has two master’s degrees and recently earned a doctorate from Jackson State University, was a homeless, unwed mother at 15. By age 19, she was singlehandedly raising three children (one was her younger brother). Well on her way to becoming “just another statistic,” Giles decided to change her course.
“To be honest, it was God. I prayed and God placed people in my life strategically to help me along that path to make sure I was able to finish what I started,” says Giles, who received her doctorate in Educational Administration and Supervision during commencement exercises Dec. 13 at the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center.
Giles was determined to defy the odds – and naysayers.
“Really, people didn’t expect me to do anything after I got pregnant at 15. At first, it started off as ‘I’m going to show you.’ I’ve always been smart. I graduated from high school with honors,” Giles says. “But I don’t have to prove anything to anybody. I’m doing it for myself.
“It had always been a childhood goal of mine. When I was around the age of 8, I would tell my little brother and cousin, ‘You will call me Dr. Giles,’ ” she says. “I would always play teacher with them. How in the world did I know anything about a Ph.D.? People around me didn’t have that degree.”
After she got pregnant, Giles moved in with her Grandma Gracie because she had no other place to go. She later lived with other relatives in the Mississippi Delta.
Giles moved into her own apartment when she was 19. She bought her first house when she was 27.
She enrolled at a community college shortly after high school. She went to work on her undergraduate degree at Delta State University when she was 23. Still a single mom, Giles pursued master’s degrees in Social Science Education and Educational Leadership at DSU while working to take care of her family.
“It was difficult. I was trying to make sure I was able to provide for my children and yet still give them the emotional support and parental support they needed to thrive and be the best they can be,” says Giles.
Giles taught three years at West Bolivar Middle School in Rosedale and was a principal at Amanda Elzy Elementary in Greenwood. She served as principal at McEvans Elementary in Shaw while earning her doctorate.
“I was traveling the highway three nights a week. I wonder how in the world did I do that, but I realize it was by the grace of God,” she says.
Giles is currently assistant principal at the KIPP Delta Elementary Literacy Academy. She uses her life to teach youth about the value of perseverance.
“I’ll ask them, “When you look at Ms. Giles, you think I grew up with a silver spoon in my mouth, right?’ When I tell them all I had to go through, their mouths drop,” she says.
Giles has been an inspiration to her colleagues, as well. Arthur Holmes, a former assistant principal at West Bolivar who supervised Giles, described her as “a lady with an attitude who is willing to take a calculated risk to improve the quality of life for her and her family.”
Giles has begun a higher education legacy in her clan, becoming the first to earn an advanced degree. Her son, Jermal, attends Alcorn State University. Her daughter, LaKourtney, graduated from Northwest Community College in cosmetology. She also has a 3-year-old daugher, Adaya. Her brother, Mario, manages a hospice.
Stevenson U. Prescott, J.D., a family friend, says Giles “earned every kudo, honor and accolade that has been bestowed upon her. Her personal drive continues to inspire me. She does not know the definition of the word ‘quit.’ ”