For every student graduating from Woodrow Wilson High School this year, there is a story. Some are inspiring. Others are surprising. And a few are truly heart breaking.
The following are seven such stories. Their subjects range from the valedictorian, to a student who lives with a crippling disease, to a one-time dropout who almost didn’t graduate.
Each is different. Yet in all, common threads can be found — things learned, future goals and the hope for a happy ending.
“All-around” would be a cliché to describe Adam Greenfield. Boy genius, aspiring litigator and gifted athlete might be more accurate descriptions. After all, he is Woodrow’s valedictorian this year, captain of the boys’ soccer team and a punter for the football team.
But talk to the polite, smart-as a-whip-but-self-effacing Greenfield, and you might never hear of his achievements. He turns red and visibly squirms when asked to talk about himself.
It’s not that he’s shy. In fact, the guy gets a charge out of public speaking. With plans to attend law school one day, he has been on Woodrow’s mock trial team for the past two years.
“I loved getting up there and constructing an argument,” he says. “It was a great experience standing in front of people. It made me polish my public-speaking skills.”
This year, Greenfield acted as one of three prosecuting attorneys in a mock drowning death case. The team finished eighth in the state.
This fall, he’ll start classes at the University of Texas at Austin. He plans to study liberal arts to prepare for law school and an eventual career in sports law.
And though he is blessed with intelligence and all-American good looks, it’s clear that not all has been smooth sailing. He quietly says he lives with his mother in their Lakewood home, as his father has passed away.
“Adam is really a neat kid,” says Sylvia Castaneda, a coordinator in the school’s counseling office. “You wouldn’t know all of the things he participates in and excels at. He’s just not the type of person to talk a lot about himself.”
Claudia Romero, a soprano in the Woodrow choir, knows much of the music of Vicente Fernandez by heart. One night last winter, she accompanied the school’s Ballet Folklorico with a rendition of Fernandez’s “Mujeres Divinas.” And her 2-year-old son Elian was in the audience to hear her sing.
“People ask me all the time how I do it,” she says. “I just try and work around some things. I get to school early to study because I can’t study at home around my son. I try to stay focused on getting to college.”
Romero says being a mom has changed her perspective on school and life.
“I have a lot of respect for adults now, because I know that life with a job and children can be very stressful.”
These days Romero is busy applying for single-parent, on-campus housing, to prepare for her next step. With a goal of becoming an English teacher, she’s determined to get a college degree.
And her efforts to do so while raising her young son should help her reach a second goal: to teach him the importance of a solid education.
“I hope Elian can be a great man,” she says. “A man who can keep his word and be honorable. I also expect him to graduate and to go to college. “But,” she adds, “I also want him to enjoy his adolescence.”
At first impression, Allison Zaby might seem to be just blindly following in her family’s footsteps. Her mother is a lawyer, her older brother is in a pre-law program, and she hopes to go to law school one day.
But while the two family members have been inspirations for the 18-year-old National Merit Scholar, Zaby clearly has her own career plans. She wants to use her legal education as a foundation for a political career.
“I’d like to be involved in policy-making in Washington,” she says. A self-described “all-round liberal,” Zaby is passionate about the environment and related legislation.
Her interest in politics led her to an internship with U.S. Rep. Pete Sessions last summer. It also led to the foundation of Woodrow’s Junior State of America club, which provides a forum for students to debate political hot topics such as Roe v. Wade, environmental laws and education finance reforms.
Zaby has applied to eight colleges, including Stanford, Georgetown and the University of Chicago. But wherever she goes, college life won’t be brand new to her.
She had a taste of life at Stanford two years ago, when she lived on campus and took a summer course in government.
“It was great,” she says. “The campus, the class, the whole experience. It certainly made me interested in applying for full-time study.”
Carla Evans’ calm, cheerful demeanor can be misleading. Anyone meeting the 17-year-old basketball forward and cheerleader might think her time at Woodrow has been nothing but four years of fun and popularity. And it might have been, except for one tragic event.
During her freshman year, Evans lost her mother in a car accident.
“My mom’s death affected me tremendously,” she says. “I no longer had a friend I could go to with my problems no matter what. I no longer had my mother’s financial or emotional support.”
After her mother’s death, the soft-spoken athlete moved in with her sister. When her sister began attending Eastfield College, Evans became part-time mother to her sister’s two children.
Through it all, Evans flourished, exhibiting a can-do attitude to the challenges that come her way.
“I’ve learned that I can’t feel sorry for myself and that it (her mother’s death) was an obstacle in my life, I guess to make me a better and stronger person,” Evans says.
Her high school successes include helping the girls’ basketball team make the playoffs this year, the first time in eight years.
Woodrow coach Tom Crabb has plenty of praise for Evans.
“She has always worked hard and is a silent leader,” he says. “All of her teammates love and respect her.”
Her skill and hard work earned her a two-year scholarship to Southwestern Christian University. After college, Evans hopes to become a social worker.
It’s a career she’ll no doubt be good at; her experiences have given her a wisdom and compassion beyond her years.
“I thought my mom would always be there, and when she was taken away from me, it was unbearable at times,” Evans says. “I’ve grown from the experience. I no longer take anything for granted, and I always count the blessings that I do have.”
When Diana Saldiema graduates from Woodrow this month, she will hold a unique honor within her family: She’ll be the only one to graduate high school.
But at times it looked as if Saldiema also wouldn’t get her diploma. In fact, at one point she gave up and dropped out of school. After she began work at a local nursing-care facility, it took only five months for her to realize how much she needed a diploma.
“When I dropped out, I learned how difficult the real world is,” she says. “Now that I’m so close to graduation, I realize I made a ridiculous decision. It was completely wrong.”
She also has the practical wisdom of the elderly to thank. “Talking with the residents influenced my decision to return to school,” she says. “They’d often asked me, ‘Without your education, how will you accomplish your dreams?’
With her goal of graduating within reach, Saldiema has set her sights on a broader horizon: to earn a master’s degree in criminal justice.
It is not a choice she made at random. When Saldiema was just a child, her oldest brother was incarcerated. Through that experience, she saw the legal system first hand.
“I remember so clearly what my family went through in navigating the court system and trying to get legal representation,” she says. “It was one of the darkest times for my family.”
Saldiema’s anticipated success will be all the more sweet when she looks back at the obstacles she’s overcome.
“All of my brothers and sisters encouraged me to graduate,” she says. “One of my brothers earned his GED. I hope that we can be examples for the others to go back and earn their diplomas.”
When meeting Roxana Morales, you notice her blond hair styled in a choppy bob, her nails painted a blazing red and a shy smile on her cheerful face. Then you notice her walker.
Morales was born with spina bifida, a permanently disabling birth defect, among other serious health problems.
“I’ve faced many challenges related to my birth defect,” she says. “One that I’ll always remember is when the doctors told my parents I would never be able to walk, after having surgeries from the time I was born to the age of 5.”
The fact that Morales has walked the crowded halls of Woodrow for four years — and the bustling corridors of Long Middle School before that — is indicative of her determined nature.
And in those halls, she’s had to face another challenge: being different.
“I was stared at, talked about and laughed at,” she says. “But as I got older, and they got older, we matured. I learned that I’m no different than anyone else due to my disability.
“I’ve also learned that the people who act normal around me accept me for who I am, not by what I look like or how I walk.”
Morales says a common misconception is that her physical disability extends to a cognitive disability.
“Some people think that I am in special education classes,” Morales says. “They don’t know I’m not, because they don’t bother to ask.”
But it will become clear this fall, when Morales begins college. Having a wide variety of interests, she plans to start out at El Centro College. There, she’ll decide in just which direction she’ll walk next.
Mason Bond has spent most of his school years shuttling between Dallas, Florida, New Hampshire and Richardson with his mother. He has attended eight different schools, including three high schools.
Last year, Bond attended Richardson’s J.J. Pearce High School, where he found he couldn’t relate to most of the students. Before long he became a truancy officer’s worst nightmare.
“I skipped a lot,” he says, adding that he spent more time at home watching television than attending school. “Sometimes I’d miss two weeks at a time.
“I kept getting further and further behind. I had always been a strong student, but I realized that just not being in class was taking its toll.”
Bond decided to move in with his father in Dallas and attend Woodrow. The relocation made a world of difference.
“The friends I have now are totally different,” he says. “More people at Woodrow have gone through similar experiences that I’ve had. And I appreciated the strength that a multi-racial school could offer me. I realized that we really are the same race: the human race.”
Despite all his moves and former truancy problems, Bond is an honor student. He also works at a local supermarket in the evenings, to help pay for college.
“I’m excited about college and what that may lead to,” he says. “I’d like to be an entrepreneur. Maybe I’ll start my own business.
“Most of all, I’ve learned to just try and be happy. Take the good and bad about life and take one day at a time.”
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