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Grads with Grit

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

Brother and sister work hard for ‘a better future, a better life’

Anyelin and Yustin Vasquez Lopez left a dangerous life in Guatemala to achieve academic excellence and set career goals in America...

Young mom surpasses expectations to get to graduation day

Ahnaka Ortiz-Rodriguez started high school while pregnant and will graduate on time, with honors and an upward trajectory-- toddler in tow...

‘A light that cannot and will not be put out’

Surviving family trauma and housing instability, getting behind on classes, losing beloved grandmothers and becoming a mother did not stop this senior from walking across the graduation stage...

Plan failed? Draw up a new one

Two years ago, Chris Hribek was on a road to nowhere with failing grades, attendance issues and an attitude problem...

Overcoming homelessness to get her degree, she’s ready to help others

Jordan Lovett, once homeless, graduated from Grand Valley State University with a bachelor’s degree in social work. She is eager to advocate for others facing similar struggles to her own...

‘A drive to prove myself’

Brittle bone disease has not stopped Thornapple Kellogg senior Kaleb Sydloski from taking part in band, swimming and tennis while in high school...

‘Surround yourself with people who care about you’

Aubrey Robinson had a tough go before switching to Northview from another district. But once she did, she soared...

From Grief and Recovery to Graduation

This high school senior survived a deadly car accident, determined to re-build his physical strength and graduate with his class...

‘Your worst situation … can make you the best person that you can be’

Self-reliant since early childhood, Tiana Studebaker’s path to graduation was filled with instability. At commencement, she tipped her hat to her alternative school classmates for their perseverance...

‘I didn’t give myself any other option’

When Don Zandbergen was suspended from school the second semester of his junior year, he knew he could just not go back. That thought lasted about a second...

Diagnosis, robotics shape her confidence, drive & compassion

Senior Ellie Clark keeps herself busy helping run her organization, Ellie’s Elephants, which has raised more than $350,000 for diabetes research since 2004. She was diagnosed with the condition when she was 4...

The world is now the stage for graduate who overcame behavioral issues

Shamar is known as a jokester, a fun-loving, energetic student. He dreams of becoming a professional actor. But he spent several years constantly in trouble and struggling to find his way...

Blessed and grateful: challenges faced with positive attitude

Senior Cayleigh Constance has overcome challenges from family illness to mental health. After a four-month hiatus, she’s on track to graduate this year...

Passion for dance, hometown values will follow this grad to college and beyond

Coping with loss, yet this graduate heads to college with confidence and hometown values...

‘No matter what life throws at us, we grow, like flowers’

Said counselor Elle Burgess of Elizabeth Walski’s positivity in the face of numerous challenges, 'If anyone has shown they have grit, it’s her'

‘He’s ready for the world’

Byron Center High School senior Nik Ursiny will graduate May 23 after learning to manage and overcome physical and mental conditions -- taking hold of his own story and advocating for himself...
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