College Bound at 16

Matt Busekroos

Makeda Sutherland sits up straight in her chair with purpose. Even though she is only 4 feet 8 inches tall, Sutherland sits comfortably and confidently on the opposite side of the table. She may be small in stature, but more than makes up for it with her big personality.

Sporting a blue and white tank top and jeans, Sutherland’s hair is in a messy bun. Her wrists are covered with leather bracelets. Every other Friday, Sutherland can be found swiping her debit card at the nearest mall purchasing accessories to advance her hippie chic style.

She can’t stop fiddling with the gold chain that dangles from her neck. The emblem on the chain reads “Makeda.”

“My dad got this for me when he went to Italy when I was five,” Sutherland said while clutching the chain. “My mom was really upset about it. But, I love my name chain.”

Sutherland’s godmother gave her the name.

Photo by Anna Brundage/Chronicle

According to Sutherland, the name comes from one of King Solomon’s wives, the Queen of Sheba. “She was the only woman he let touch his money, his gold and [was the] overseer of his kingdom with him,” Sutherland said.

Even though the name Makeda is African, Sutherland is not of African descent.

“You can be Hispanic like I am, and be dark-skinned,” she said. “I have friends who are of ‘African-American’ descent and they are lighter than me. I think that stigma needs to be taken away because the color of your skin really doesn’t determine anything anymore. I feel like those stereotypes need to be broken.”

Sutherland grew up as an only child for nine years until her mother remarried and gave birth to two boys, Benjamin, 10, and Tyler, 2.

After Benjamin’s birth, Sutherland thrived in her role as older sister. She helped prepare bottles and change diapers.

“I felt like maybe I was the maternal figure when my mom wasn’t around,” she said.

Sutherland counts on her mother’s strength to combat difficult times. Sutherland said there have been moments she’s wanted to give up, but pressed on because of her mother. She was raised to be independent and rely solely on herself.

“She always tells me she doesn’t want me to be a slave to anyone whether it be a future husband or future mate of any sort,” Sutherland said. “That’s just how she raised me. She’s my drive.”

Sutherland’s mother emphasized education at an early age. She started to read at 2 years old.

When Sutherland took the entrance test for third grade, she scored high enough to begin fourth grade. At the start of fourth grade, Sutherland again grasped the material well enough to skip another grade.

Therefore, Sutherland started fifth grade at 8 years old.

“It was hard because I was in a new school and I knew none of them,” she said. “I cried on the first day of school when my mom left me.”

During her first week of fifth grade, one student named Derek taunted Sutherland. Derek won the math award at the end of every year. He teased Sutherland and told her he would “kill her” if she did better than him.

Sutherland purposely failed the next test.

“But don’t worry,” Sutherland said without hesitation. “I beat him in math at the end. I got the award.”

Sutherland graduated middle school as valedictorian. She was also salutatorian at her high school graduation.

At 16 years old, Sutherland was accepted into Quinnipiac University.

“In my orientation group, I got ‘Most likely to be caught with a fake ID.’ People still make jokes about it,” she said. “It was different because everyone was older.”

Senior Jessica Poe lived with Sutherland during their freshman year.

“Living with Makeda was never a dull moment. She’s the same loud, lovable and enthusiastic person whether it’s morning, noon or night, and that energy translates into her work ethic,” Poe said.

Poe said Sutherland’s biggest critic is herself and if she’s not pleased with her work, she will continue to fix it until it’s perfect.

“I’ve never seen someone get up at 5 a.m. to complete a paper for the following week simply because she wanted to get a head start,” Poe said. “Makeda just has a passion for school unlike anyone else I’ve ever met.”

Sutherland said it’s bittersweet knowing her time at Quinnipiac is coming to an end. She will graduate before her 21st birthday.

Sutherland said she loves school and expects to further her education whether it’s attending law school or delving more deeply into history in a master’s program.

“I feel like Quinnipiac has definitely left a mark on my heart,” she said. “Even the bad things that happened, the good things that happened, the friends I built, the friends I made, the friends I lost — it was all for a reason.

“It was definitely a journey with unexpected bumps in the road and now I can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”