NEW YORK— Although the city’s graduation rate was only 65.5 percent this year, recognition has to be given to the struggles some students went through to be part of that percentage.
Nathaniel Loucks is a recent graduate of the Gateway School of Environmental Research and Technology in the Bronx. He lives in a temporary housing residence in Brooklyn, two hours away from his school.
Loucks was one of 193 graduates to receive the Remarkable Achievement Award at the New York City Department of Education headquarters Monday. Principals pick one Class of 2012 graduate from each school to receive this award.
After school, Loucks works at a restaurant five days per week. His shift ends at 1 a.m.
“I pulled a lot of all-nighters,” he said. “You get used to it after a while, but it was hard.”
Loucks will attend John Jay College of Criminal Justice in the fall, where he plans to study forensics.
Since 2006, New York City Schools Chancellor Dennis M. Walcott has been honoring students who overcome personal or academic challenges to go to college.
The winners have “overcome obstacles related to immigration, violence, and parenthood,” Walcott said. “They are an inspiration to their peers, families, and all New Yorkers for their courage and commitment to earning their high-school diplomas.”
Finding solace in the arts
Despite a violent early childhood with a schizophrenic mother, Cyrus Dennis recently graduated from the Brooklyn High School for Leadership and Community Service. At age 6, Dennis was placed in foster care, because teachers noticed unusual bruises on his body.
Under foster care, Dennis grew up in a neighborhood full of gangs and drug dealers.
His school is in district 13, where students are from some of the poorest families in the city; they have the least opportunity to learn in a high-performing school, according to a recent report by the Schott Foundation for Public Learning.
Dennis persevered to concentrate on his studies, despite being bullied for not becoming part of the gang cliques.
Dennis said he encourages young people to “rely on your strength to beat the odds.”
Dennis used the arts and music as a portal to escape his harsh reality. He will be attending the Savannah College of Art and Design in Hong Kong in the fall.
Overcoming near death experiences
Tashelle Woods was born prematurely and with drugs in her system. She was raised by her grandmother, because both of her parents were drug addicts who died when she was little.
Woods is the first person in her family to graduate from high school— let alone finish ninth grade. She almost dropped out of school on a number of occasions. She was falling behind after being hospitalized for several chronic illnesses.
Last October, Woods was sent to the hospital for a condition where excess fluid caused her brain and optic nerves to swell. She also had fluid flowing into her joints, causing one leg to be bigger than the other. “It makes shoe shopping a pain,” she joked.
Woods said she was able to graduate from the School for Legal Studies and head to CUNY because she “never asked why me?”
Over the years, Woods lost one half sister and three half brothers, mainly to cancer. Wood’s herself had to get a cancerous mass surgically removed from her thighbone.
“It’s been a really tough couple of years,” she said. “Graduating is like the icing on the cake.”
Blind physics major, musician
Daniel Gillen uses a Braille computer to take notes in class. He said avoiding thick Braille paper helps the environment.
Gillen, who was born completely blind, graduated from Beacon High School in Manhattan this year with teenagers who don’t have disabilities.
“It’s the end of a book, the close of a series,” he said.
In addition to his academic studies, Gillen has studied piano for 11 years at the Filomen M. D’Agostino Greenberg Music School at Lighthouse International. This fall, Daniel will attend Haverford College in Philadelphia where he will study physics, and minor in music.
Although Gillen can’t see his piano, he understands the physics behind the music he plays. “The fields go together very nicely,” he said.
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