High school graduation is a proud moment in any person’s life. It represents academic achievement, an obstacle overcome, and the beginning of a new stage in life. For two Woodrow Wilson High School graduates, it’s much more than that. When Javier Torres, Jr., 18, and Stacy Evans, 17, walk the stage, it will be the culmination of a lifetime of work complicated by an unexpected family tragedy for Torres, and an ongoing saga of parental incarceration for Evans.


          Javier Torres says he used to hang around with a bad crowd.


          "I used to misbehave my freshman year," he says. "I was just being a follower."


          But when Torres was in 10th grade, his father was involved in a car accident that suddenly thrust him in the role of man of the house, forcing him to take on more responsibilities and reevaluate his life.


          The accident left his dad in a coma for six months, during which time Torres began working 54 hours a week at his uncle’s tile installation business. His mom’s schedule was just as grueling. He says she would work as a housekeeper from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. during the week and noon-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.


          "I had to help my mom out," he says. "See, that was my thing. I’m the oldest in the family, and my mom wanted me to be a role model."


          He and his little brother, Hugo, were dropped off at school every morning at 6:30 so their mom could get to work on time. Torres says he used that early start to get his homework done.


          "He helped me. He said, ‘I’ll help you out. What do you need help with?’ I could do the work. I was just sleepy."


          Torres says the schoolwork was the easy part — it was the gangs and drugs that made life hard for him and his brother. Everyday on the way home from school, Torres says his old homeys would tease them, throw rocks and generally bully them.


          He says they were mad he didn’t want to hang out with them anymore.


          "It’s just so easy to go along with them and be a follower instead of being a leader. They made it impossible to walk home, throwing rocks at us and beating us down. But someone was always there to help us before they could get their hands on us. And finally we got smart and started taking back alleys."


          Now that he is about to graduate and is setting his sights on college, he looks around at his old buddies and bullies in the neighborhood — they’ve all dropped out and are in and out of jail, he says. But despite the fact that they made his life miserable all those years, he takes no satisfaction in their current situation.


          "I’m really sad. Even though they used to beat me down, I’m not happy, except that I’m not like them."


He credits his dad’s accident, combined with the guidance of one of his teachers, Tony Bustos, for that fact.


          "His classes were not just math but life classes. He was funny. He encouraged us. He said we could always change no matter what we did in the past. He said it was never too late to change.


“And when my dad had his accident, I decided to make a change. It’s so easy to make illegal money and have nice things. It’s so hard to stay in school and work for it."


          His dad is improving, and Torres is thinking about going to Richland College to start his college career. He’s a member of the Amigos Car Club and loves anything involving cars, from bodywork, to brake jobs, to interior work. His penchant for building things will figure prominently in his future career. He says he would like to become a civil engineer someday.


          For now, he’s just enjoying watching his brother do all of the things he didn’t have time to do, such as National Honor Society, the swim team and orchestra.


          "I want the best for him. When he needs a ride, I drop everything."




          Watching Stacy Evans playing on the varsity basketball team or leading the varsity cheerleading squad in a cheer, it’s hard to believe she has been through so much and stayed so high-spirited.


          Her mom, Renita, went to prison when Stacy was just 7 years old. Since then, she has been living with grandparents, aunts and siblings for the last 10 years. Making matters even worse, five years ago her mother was struck by a car and killed while walking along the highway just a year after being released from prison. To this day, it’s still a mystery exactly what happened that night.


          "I’ve been through a lot. I’ve been passed from house to house all my life. I live with my oldest sister and her three kids, and that’s hard."


          Her sister, Angel, and Angel’s three children, Deja, 4, Avery, 6, and Ashton, 2, demand a lot of attention, but between basketball, cheerleading and her job, Evans has little spare time to help raise her niece and nephews.


          And yet she finds that time.


          She calls her motivation to keep going "the will to want to become something."


          "That’s what my mom always wanted for me. So even though sometimes I would wake up and say I can’t do this, I never gave up."


          A positive development was the reemergence of her father in her life. They began talking again when she moved back to the east side of Dallas from Richardson .


"He said he was sorry he wasn’t there before, but said he wanted to be a part of my life again. Having one parent involved really helped."


          She also says her teachers, grandparents, aunts and sister all helped her overcome the many obstacles put in her way.


          "I’m very excited that I pushed myself to the point where I’m ready to walk the stage. The whole family’s excited."


          Evans has her heart set on Texas Tech University , where she hopes to double major in sports medicine and broadcast journalism.


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