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Inspire Team Member James Hughes and His Daughter’s Emotional College Acceptance Earns National Attention

“Skylar is going to Duke!

With tears in their eyes, James Hughes, Director of Print Production at Inspire, embraced his daughter, Skylar, as they shared an emotional moment of joy. Her acceptance to Duke was significant for the father and daughter as Skylar was able to celebrate with her late mother, Rasheda, at her gravesite.

The moment, which was captured on video by Skylar, has spread across the country, catching the attention of local publications like the Gwinnett Daily Post and national outlets like ‘The Ellen DeGeneres Show.’ And for good reason.

After James joined then-Arby’s in 2014, his wife suffered an aneurysm and went into a coma for a year and a half. She passed away when Skylar was just 11 years old.

“So I was a single parent for several years. I’ve since remarried, but she lost her mom at a real maturity age. She has women role models in her life, but it’s been tough without her mom for these big moments like seeing her graduate from high school, go to prom or see her get married,” James said. “We go to her gravesite quite a bit for Skylar to spend time with her mom and tell her what’s going on in her life.”

For Skylar, her Duke acceptance was preceded by years of diligent work and aspirations of attending her dream school. Since she was a freshman in high school, Skylar has been in pursuit of a career in marine biology through Duke’s best-in-class program.

“Over the summer, she did a three-week program in the Gulf of Mexico as part of Duke’s marine biology program and that just sealed it,” James said. “Then we took a tour of the campus and that was it. I mean, she was so sure this was where she wanted to go. That is the only college application she put in.”

So when it was time to see if years of hard work building on a 4.2 GPA at Grayson High School while holding part-time jobs and working through community service initiatives had paid off, Skylar wanted to be with both of her parents.

“Well, the problem was the acceptance letter didn’t come out until 7 p.m. Well, in Georgia, it’s good and dark by that time. And I was like we are not going to a graveyard at night,” James said. “She couldn’t sleep all night and when we got up that Saturday morning, we got her laptop and went right over to the gravesite.”

After the video of Skylar receiving her acceptance letter from Duke spread across the country, Skylar’s cousin Laniece Blackmon and her sister Ja’Nique Blocker set up a GoFundMe to help support the nearly $80,000 a year tuition. Even with current scholarships accounted for, James estimated the leftover cost hovering around $60,000.

That was until comedian and television host Ellen DeGeneres heard about Skylar’s ambitions. During an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show,” on Thursday, DeGeneres awarded Skylar with the “Ellen DeGeneres Show Shutterfly Scholarship for Incredible Young Women from Loganville, Georgia Who Get into Duke with a 4.2 GPA and Want to Be a Marine Biotechnologist,” presenting her with $25,000 toward her scholarship fund.

“This has been unbelievable,” James said. “I’ve been very blessed with two kids and I don’t know that I could have kept it going without the strength of my kids. From my family and Inspire, I mean I had only been with the company for a short time when my wife passed and the outpouring of support and love from my co-workers was unbelievable,” James said. “And then now, with this GoFundMe, it’s just taken on a life of its own. But like I told Skylar, no matter what, we’re getting her to Duke.”

The GoFundMe has reached $58,000, with a goal of $180,000. To continue supporting Skylar’s dreams, click here.