She’s so tiny she’s hard to see, even in the motorized wheelchair that has given her mobility since she got old enough to drive it. Handicapped from birth, she’s one of those young people who never tasted “fully abled” and so does not acknowledge “disabled.”
She just finds a way to do everything she can – which is more than most people can imagine.
Earlier this week, she rolled across a stage and picked up her high school diploma, graduating eighth in a class of more than 350.
No one was surprised. She’d also been a sideline cheer squad member, a mentor to elementary school students, vice president of the National Honor Society, a Student Council representative and Homecoming Queen.
Alejandrina’s story has been in the Star-Telegram and on WFAA-TV. But every graduate has a story.
That’s what makes graduation such a dramatic, emotional time. It’s not just that something significant is ending and a new chapter is beginning for all these young people.
It’s what brought them to this point: a mother’s sacrifice, a father’s dedication, a sibling’s encouragement. Grandparents who stepped in, friends who intervened, a community that supported and encouraged, provided a job, sent food home in the summer, bridged the gap when times were hard.
Certainly a lot of our graduates grow up in loving, supportive homes and got what they needed when they needed it, at every step along the way. We should all be grateful for those kind of homes.
But it’s a mistake to make assumptions. Sometimes the kid who seems to come from the roughest background has had enormous love and support behind him. And that kid who makes it all look so easy may have had challenges we don’t see.
This year’s high school graduates have overcome leukemia, triumphed over abuse, fought through the loss of loved ones or racial prejudice or grinding poverty. They’ve battled discouragement, the persistent hopelessness in the world around them, the “war on terror” they’ve grown up with.
Some are immigrants who came here to escape war and almost certain death.
They’ve all felt the frustration of years of economic struggle and watched disaster after disaster play out on the evening news. They’ve all had to deal with and prepare for a technology-driven world where the landscape changes every day.
Let’s give them a little credit just for making it to this point.
It’s easy to see the graceful athlete who can do amazing things on a court or field or track, and forget the hours of sweaty work in the weight room, the miles of running, the endless repetitions that honed that skill.
It’s just as easy to see kids at this time of year who smile as they harvest scholarships and honors – but forget the late nights in front of a computer screen, the red-eyed hours of reading, the struggles with physics and math and literature.
Some of these graduates, when they take hold of that diploma, will surpass the educational level of everyone in their family.
Others are just expected to go earn doctorates.
One of the cornerstones of my career, as a community newspaperman, is the firm belief that everyone has a story. Working in small-town newspapers my whole life, I’ve known and interviewed a far more diverse and fascinating crowd than a Hollywood “reporter” could ever imagine.
Those kids in the caps and gowns? They’ve got stories, too.
I can’t wait to hear them.
Bob Buckel is executive editor of the Wise County Messenger.