All of Manchester’s graduating seniors have much to be proud of when they look back on their high school accomplishments. We want members of our community to meet some of the students who have faced challenges that threatened their success were it not for personal fortitude, ambition and strength. These are the stories they were willing to share that we hope will inspire others. They’re the reason the pomp and circumstance really matters.
|Nathan, front, at this year's Memorial Day|
ceremony at school
Nathan Temple’s family will be watching proudly when he dons his cap and gown for Memorial High School’s commencement ceremony on Saturday. His mother won’t be there, though. She died in October 2013, the beginning of Nate’s junior year.
“I loved her sense of humor and ability to always put a smile on my face,” Nathan said of his mom. “She always put me and my sister before herself, and I will always be grateful for that.”
About a month after his mom’s passing, Nate decided that living with his father wasn’t the best option.
“I realized, with my mom gone, how much she had been around for me and how much my dad was not,” Nate said.
With his father facing some personal challenges of his own, Nate moved in with his maternal grandparents.
“Their house feels like more of a home,” Nate said.
There were a lot of transitions in Nate’s life around that time. It would have been easy to use his circumstances as an excuse to fall behind in school. Instead, his mother’s memory was the motivating factor that pushed him through.
“My mom was always the one on me about homework and grades,” Nate said. “I thought, ‘Well, just because she’s gone doesn’t mean my grades can slip.’ She wouldn’t want that to happen.”
So through it all, Nate kept his grades up. And with his grandparents’ help, he got his driver’s license, bought his first car -- “A Mazda, but it’s already falling apart, so I think I need a new one.” -- and got a part-time job. Nate has been working at the Goldenrod Drive-In for the past year and a half.
“He is one of our most valued employees,” said Goldenrod owner Rich Webber. “Nate is hardworking, trustworthy, and punctual. He never hesitates to help a coworker. It really is rare for a person his age to juggle sports, school and work so well.”
Another big supporter Nate credits is his English teacher at Memorial, Danielle Foley. English is his strongest subject, he said, and he enjoyed her class during his sophomore and senior years. Ms. Foley noticed the change in Nate after the passing of his mother.
“Where a normally boisterous, jubilant boy once sat was now a boy who must have felt like his world was lost,” she said. “I watched Nate pull himself back up, with the help of his excellent friends, and this year, when he walked into my mythology class as a senior, I knew the old, fun Nate was back.”
Ms. Foley added that a new change in Nate is his maturity.
“I think I’ve matured more than the average high schooler needs to, but it’s helped me in the long run,” Nate said.
Now Nate is about to graduate with a 3.25 GPA and plans to join the U.S. Army National Guard. He’ll spend about five months at basic training in Missouri starting in September. Then he will come home to work before enrolling in the fall of 2016 at Plymouth State University, where he’ll study criminal justice.
“The Army pays for 100% of my college tuition,” Nate explained. “When I graduate, I can join and train in the OCS.”
Officer Candidate School is the Army’s training academy for prospective Army officers. Nate also has hopes of becoming an Army Ranger, one of an elite unit. After duty in the Army, Nate wants to be a police officer.
With the future wide open to fulfilling his goals, Nate is grateful to his grandparents for helping to provide the opportunity.
“There hasn’t been a point that I couldn’t go to them, and they haven’t been there for me,” Nate said. “Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
As for advice that other students who are struggling can take with them: “No matter how hard life gets, it can always be worse, so take every day as it comes, good or bad, and never get too down on yourself.”
|Ruben, center, with ELO coordinator Angela Bourassa |
and guidance counselor Bill Cannon
Imagine moving to a country when you’re 18 years old and don’t speak the language. Imagine enrolling in school in your new country, and you have a deadline of three years to learn the language and graduate. It sounds like a lot of pressure, not to mention intimidating.
Ruben Chavez-Lopez was in just that situation in 2012 when he arrived in New Hampshire from Guatemala. He began his American education at Central High School taking basic English Learner classes.
“When Ruben got here, we started out talking with an interpreter between us,” said his guidance counselor Bill Cannon. “Now we can have a full conversation in English, without an interpreter.”
To complete all of the credits required for graduation, Ruben loaded his schedule with the necessary classes. Once he became proficient in English, he took additional classes online to help him catch up to his classmates.
Ruben worked at a part-time job, but eventually he quit. Living with two brothers -- one older, one younger -- means Ruben also has other responsibilities at home that typical high school students don’t have.
“I only worked 15 hours a week, but it was hard to do everything when I was in school and studying,” he said.
Another resource available to Ruben was the Access Academy at St. Anselm College, which refugee and immigrant high school students in Manchester attend every week. The Access Academy programs teach students like Ruben the process of applying for college and the skills that will help them flourish in a college setting.
Ruben does see college in his future. He wants to be a music teacher.
“When I was 14 years old, I started playing piano,” Ruben said.
Unfortunately, there was no room in his course schedule for music.
“I had no idea he could play or had interest in music,” Central’s extended learning opportunity coordinator, Angela Bourassa, said. “But when he told me, I took him to the music department, where he sat at a piano and played something. We were so impressed.”
For now, Ruben has a keyboard at home he practices on.
As for his academic success, Ruben says the key is reading.
“I like to read books in English,” he said. “Sometimes I just go to the library and read.”
He would tell any other student in similar circumstances to work hard on learning English, and to keep reading and writing.
Ruben’s motivation was simple and personal.
“I want to live a good life and be successful here.”
How hard do you think you’d have to work to complete four years of high school in one school year? Ask Abbi Benson, and she’ll tell you what it takes. She started her fifth year at West High School with just four credits. That meant she needed 16 more to graduate. Did she do it? Spoiler alert: Abbi will be marching with the rest of the Class of 2015 at commencement.
“She’s worked harder than any student I’ve seen in 12 years of teaching,” said English teacher Stephanie Silver. “Everybody at this school believes in her, and I’m so proud of what she’s accomplished.”
But how does a student find herself in the position of staying in high school for five years and almost not graduating?
“I didn’t take my first couple of years seriously,” Abbi explained. “I skipped school a lot, hung out with an older crowd who had more free time, and I thought I could do what they were doing.”
The problem was, Abbi should have been completing course requirements and earning at least half of her graduation credits as a freshman and sophomore. But she earned zero credits those first two years. During her third year, Abbi earned a half credit. ONE HALF of a credit, the whole year.
“After that, I didn’t know if I wanted to come back to school at all,” Abbi said. “I could have just gotten a GED, but my mother put the idea in my head that a GED wasn’t good enough. And then I didn’t want to settle for that.”
So Abbi went back to school and started her fourth year, during which she earned another three and a half credits. Still not even close to the number of credits she needed. September 2014, the start of year five, is when Abbi really cracked down and got serious about her graduation goal.
“This year, I was a freshman, sophomore, junior and senior.”
Abbi finished all the required classes, took classes online to recover the credits she lost her first four years, and earned additional credits through extended learning opportunities outside the classroom. She also held a part-time job at the mall.
“Every day was school, work, sleep,” said Abbi. “Sometimes not even sleep. I’ll sleep when I graduate.”
Abbi’s biggest supporters and cheerleaders were some of her teachers, who reminded her to stay focused and show up for class, and they tracked her down if she strayed.
“She’s a kind, good person,” Mrs. Silver said about Abbbi. “For all the mistakes she’s made, she’s always had a level of maturity to know you’re trying to help her, and she takes responsibility.”
Abbi does have aspirations for higher education, but she won’t go to college right away.
“I’ll get a full time job to work and save some money,” she said. “I want an artsy career. I want to learn how to produce music, or maybe go to art school and do something creative with drawing.”
Yes, doing four years’ worth of work in one year was difficult. But no matter what obstacle lies in your path, Abbi says anyone can do anything.
“Don’t say you can’t do it. Try to see yourself being successful. If you do that, you have a pretty good shot.”