Ballou High School held its senior prom last Friday night but Ludria McCauley broke tradition--and probably a few hearts--by turning down four offers.

"It's a waste of money for four hours," she says. "It costs $40 a couple and by the time you buy a dress and shoes it would cost you over $150." That no-nonsense approach to things is typical of McCauley, a National Honor Society member who will graduate fourth in her class with a 3.6 grade average and become the first member of her immediate family to go to college.

McCauley will attend either Iowa State or Penn State University and major in computer science. She anticipates a struggle at either place because school work has never been a snap.

Ballou's principal, Dennis C. Johnson, says McCauley is not the kind of student who masters each subject with ease. "It does not come easy for her, but she will not let it get her down. She fights for her grades," he said.

In an introductory course on computer language this year, for example, McCauley started with a C. She also took the school's toughest math course and had a D after the first quarter. By the third grading period this spring, Ludria had pulled the math grade up to a C+ and the computer course up to an A-, school records show.

"She's very diligent. She works very hard. She's very impatient with herself. She's a perfectionist," says Audrey Byrd, who teaches data processing concepts at Ballou. "She came to school early to work and she'd stay late after school. She'd come in during lunch and on Easter vacation to do the work."

McCauley says part of the reason for that approach is that, "I'm the youngest child and I wasn't supposed to bring home any Ds and Fs. That's a no-no."

"She's the type of person who'll really make it," says Lloyd Williams, Ballou's assistant principal.

Maude Hughes, McCauley's guidance counselor, describes her as a "regular child. She's not a bubbly kind of person. You wouldn't know she's there unless you sought her out."

McCauley was captain of the school's pompon girls this year and belonged to the pep club. Last year she was junior class president. In 1979, she won a "double dutch" rope skipping award from Mobil and the D.C. police department.

She seldom goes out on dates, loves collecting stuffed animals and reading Maya Angelou and Agatha Christie novels. She has been known to run out of movie theaters when horror films get too frightening, remembering a time when she and a friend poured buttered popcorn all over a stranger while watching "Friday the 13th."

She comes from a close-knit family whose members spend time together and help each other. Her mother, Doris, is a homemaker and her father, Caldwell, is a retired Air Force sergeant who now works as a carpenter. Her older sister is a homemaker.

"If I need money for something in school I always get it from my parents. If I come home with a lot of work they always ask me if I need some help," McCauley says.

"I fix my schedule to meet hers. I take her to the library when she needs to go," says her father. "I see that she's out there trying to help herself so I try to help her, too."

Despite her good record, McCauley says she is prepared for the possibility of entering a tight job market after college.

"I've told my father that if I don't get a good job after I graduate I'll go into the Air Force like he did and get more computer training while looking for a better job on the outside," she says.

"You can find a job these days, but you might not find what you want. When it comes to finding the job that makes you happy, that's where the problem is. Too many people are trying to learn the same skills. They need to spread themselves out a little more. The future is in computers, so I should be able to get a job relatively easily."

As for going away to school, McCauley says, "I'm nervous, but I'm more excited than nervous. I don't know how well I'll do. I just hope to keep a C average my first year. Eventually I want to do just as good or better than I did in high school."

As she leaves Ballou, McCauley's achievements are a special point of pride for those at the school. To go from Southeast Washington to a good college, says Johnson, is "going from darkness to the light." Says Hughes: "My heart is renewed every time this happens. So many of our kids do find a way, even though the odds are against them."