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Grads with Grit

A series about students who have had to overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring.

Undaunted by Disease, Staying the Course

Standing in a hall of Sparta High School, Steven Sevarns wore a smile that might suggest he wasn't headed to class that day. He had finished his last lessons before graduation, and all but the ceremony was behind him. A...

A ‘Battler’ who Wouldn’t Settle for Less

Brittney Schnicke's first thought as she stared at her limp, badly damaged fingers was not whether she would be able to keep them, or how the accident would affect her future. And it wasn't whether she would ever regain normal...

Shooting for the Top

Donnie Alford owns his past with a perspective on where he comes from, where he is today and why it all matters that seems mature beyond his 18 years. The Wyoming High School senior, who graduated June 1, tells...

Diploma: ‘I Feel Like it Changed My Life’

Tyler Zahnke sat down at his musical instrument – aka, his Toshiba laptop  – and proceeded to open a wonder-box of sounds. He called it “Welcome to the Tape.” Out the sounds came, tumbling one into the next: Bach’s Brandenburg...

Drawing a Path to Her Future

Katie Bork's drawings explode with imagination. Scenes in black ink reveal a world right out of her brain. Faceless people go about their daily lives with exclamation points and question marks on their bellies; they float in dreamlike bubbles;...

Unbreakable Spirit

A recent district grad who's lived his life with serious health problems is on his way to Harvard, an accomplishment that surprised even him. Justin Sydloski applied to four colleges and was accepted by the University of Michigan to study...
Hadi Aljazaeri celebrates with family friend Ali Almarsoomi and his daughter Sana

‘A Better Life, a Safe Life, a Good Future’

In a swirling sea of students in red and white caps and gowns who were hugging family members and being photographed, Abdulhadi Aljazaeri stood tall with a beaming smile. In his hand he clutched something precious: a high school...

Future Takes Flight: ‘I Will Do Whatever It Takes’

Nolte Cunningham’s first experience on a plane was really bad. He was about 6 years old, on a flight taking his sister to the hospital, when he looked out at the wing and saw fuel leaking from it. He...

Determination over Depression: Future Trooper Found New Home and Career Calling

Editor’s note: This is the last of our “Grads with Grit” series about students who have overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring. Molly Sheehan-Visser was being treated for suicidal depression at a psychiatric hospital when a nurse...

From Genocide to College, Rwandan Refugee Student Keeps Faith Strong

Editor's note: This is the seventh of a series about students who have had to overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring. Moses Kabandana was born in Rwanda in January 1994, just before the killing started. By that June,...

Through Homelessness and Hardship, Northview Graduate Did What He Had to Do

Editor's note: This is the sixth of a series about students who have had to overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring. Randy McCant had spent a fun July 4 weekend at a friend's cottage when he came home...
Wyoming student Jose Sanchez Bueso

Student Graduates after Riding Train of Death through Mexico

Editor's note: This is the fifth of a series about students who have had to overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring. During the last day of his senior year at Wyoming High School, Jose Sanchez-Bueso completed his...

Cerebral Palsy and Learning Disability Haven’t Stopped EGR Grad

Editor's note: This is the fourth of a series about students who have had to overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring. East Grand Rapids High School senior Rosie Accola has an easy smile and super-smart vocabulary. She...

From the Congo to Comstock Park: Refugee to Graduate with Near-Perfect GPA in Two...

Editor’s note: This is the third in a series about students who have had to overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring When Gloire Rubambiza arrived in Comstock Park two years ago as a refugee from Africa, high...

Graduating Senior Battles Disease with Unconventional Approach

Editor's Note: This is the second of a series about students who have had to overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring. Alexis Hickman tells her story candidly and openly, her personality displaying a combination of youthful sparkle...

Car Crash Couldn’t Stop Him from Walking – or Marching

Editor's Note: This is the first of a series about students who have had to overcome unusual challenges and hardships to graduate this spring. Kaleb Robinson loves to play drums in the Cedar Springs High School marching band. But after...
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