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Grads with Grit

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

‘You can’t rely on other people to build you up’

Shane Brewer admits he once did “the bare minimum” in school. “I just scraped along. It’s not that I’m not smart. I just didn’t see the point.” Until he did...

She’s come so far

Farhiya realized her self-created predicament was sad, but she also knew she could get herself out of it...

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,...

‘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...

Coming from struggle, Somali student wants to ‘change someone’s life’

A Forest Hills Northern High School graduate born in war-torn Somalia plans to leverage the opportunities he has been given in this country to help children and families adjust to the U.S. and its culture...

‘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...

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...

‘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...

Determined grad finds her way from life-altering earthquake to success

Coming to U.S. from Haiti just two years ago, Roodflore Winkels has accomplished much and is reaching for new heights...

‘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'

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...

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...

From homelessness to supporting himself, he’s ready for college

Technically homeless, Tristen Foley worked and studied around the clock to get his diploma...

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 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...

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...
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