Some have been abused, others abandoned. They have battled demons like depression and addiction. They have lost loved ones and sometimes lost themselves. But somehow, some way, they survived.
At the April 13 Parents’ Council meeting, graduating seniors from all seven high schools in the Cherry Creek School District shared their harrowing, inspiring stories of overcoming unbelievable obstacles and succeeding in the face of overwhelming odds.
“Today these students, these young adults, stood up in front of us and courageously told us their stories,” said Dr. Harry Bull, superintendent of Cherry Creek Schools. “Their tenacity and their ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ are both powerful and moving.”
Here are their stories:
Benson Adams – Cherry Creek High School
Benson Adams says the most difficult decision he’s ever made was the decision to forgive his mother. It meant forgiving her for her drug and alcohol abuse; forgiving her for physically and emotionally abusing him and his brother, who has Down Syndrome. His forgiveness has helped her on the road to recovery.
“My mom is on the right track now,” Adams said. “I’m proud of her improvement.”
During the dark days of his childhood, Adams focused on academics. “I worked hard to get good grades, to do well in school,” he said.
That effort has certainly paid off. Adams has earned a Congressional appointment to the United States Air Force Academy.
James Artis III – Overland High School
Though he’s only 18 years old, James Artis III has seen some of the best and worst this world has to offer.
Among the worst was his brother being shot and paralyzed, and his mother being diagnosed with cancer. But the best includes seeing his mother battling and beating the dreaded disease and then going on to nursing school so she can help others.
“She’s my super woman,” Artis III said of his mother.
He also considers his time at Overland High School as one of the best parts of his life so far.
“My experience at Overland has molded me into the person I am now,” said Artis III, who is now looking forward to more “bests.” He will attend the University of Denver this fall.
Seth Bogulski – Cherokee Trail High School
The words “Do you have the grit to graduate?” challenged Seth Bogulski when he arrived at Cherokee Trail High School.
“I brought anger, a chip on my shoulder,” Bogulski said. The anger stemmed from his mother’s decision to abandon him, his two brothers and their father.
Being cut from the basketball team didn’t improve his outlook, but being asked to go out for the wrestling team did.
“It changed my attitude, my effort and eventually my life,” said Bogulski, who placed third in his weight class at the state wrestling championships. Wrestling, along with his involvement in student leadership at CTHS, helped him discover he does indeed have “the grit to graduate.” He will receive his high school diploma in May and go on to the University of Northern Colorado this fall.
Makael Daniel – Smoky Hill High School
Smoky Hill High School senior Makael Daniel grew up in a home where mental illness and violence were part of daily life. When Daniel was just six years old, her father started abusing her mother. Her father suffered from depression and bipolar disorder. The abuse continued throughout Daniel’s childhood and reached a peak last September, when Daniel asked someone to call the police on her mother’s behalf. She also asked a counselor at school to help Daniel move to a safer place.
Those experiences left Daniel with a strong desire to help others, which is already becoming a reality. After graduation in May, Daniel will travel to Oregon to work with homeless children through a paid internship. This fall she will attend Colorado College on a full-ride scholarship. She plans to study social sciences and become an occupational therapist.
Shira Holder – Endeavor Academy
Shira Holder started using drugs and alcohol when she was just 12 years old. Her childhood substance abuse led to severe depression and anxiety during her teenage years. It affected every aspect of her life.
“My relationship with drugs interfered with every relationship I had at that time,” she said.
Holder recalls that at one point, she wanted to be “a professional homeless person.” Her addiction had crushed her dreams and ambitions.
Then, she found Endeavor Academy, the Cherry Creek School District’s alternative high school. She found help. She found hope.
“I took advantage of Endeavor’s sobriety program,” she said.
Holder completed the program and completed her education. She graduated in March and is now working full-time. And for the first time in as long as she can remember, she is happy.
Cole Leroy – Eaglecrest High School
Cole Leroy grew up without a father or brothers in his life. He filled the void with sports. “Football has always been a passion,” Leroy said. “Sports were all I thought about.”
When he arrived at Eaglecrest High School, sports kept him grounded.
“Coach saw something in me that a lot of other people didn’t see,” he said.
During his junior year, Leroy fell ill. He had his appendix removed and planned to be back on the field in short order. But then doctors discovered a vascular ring around his aorta. He faced another surgery and a difficult recovery.
“All I could think about was football and track and the things I loved,” Leroy recalled.
But thanks to his faith in God and the support of his mother, his counselor Cynthia Cooper and math teacher Katie Valentine, he was back on his feet, in school and playing sports in just over a month.
This fall he will attend the University of Northern Colorado, where he will continue to pursue both academic and athletic accomplishments.
Katie Lindberg – Smoky Hill High School
Katie Lindberg is the epitome of independence and self-reliance. It’s not that she wanted to be solely responsible for herself; she just felt like she had to be.
She explains that her father was an alcoholic, her sister dropped out of school and out of her life, and her mother had a career that required frequent travel. As a result, Lindberg developed a strong sense of independence and self-confidence. At Smoky Hill High School, Lindberg got involved in challenging academic programs, myriad activities and several sports. She plays soccer, is a member of National Honor Society and Student Government, and participates in the rigorous International Baccalaureate program.
Her efforts have paid off. She has received a full-ride scholarship to study environmental engineering at the University of Colorado.
Derrick Lubega Maestas – Grandview High School
Derrick Lubega Maestas has traveled a road that most of us can’t even imagine. He was born in Uganda in east Africa, a country that has been wracked by civil war and guerilla warfare. As a young child, Maestas lived on the streets.
“I saw people dying on the streets,” he recalled.
When he was 11, he was taken to an orphanage where he started school for the first time in his life. Eventually, he ended up in the U.S. and began attending Grandview High School. Despite the hardships he’s experienced and the horrors he’s seen, he is focused on “showing respect and loving people.” After graduation, he plans to attend a trade school to develop skills he can take back to his homeland.
“I want to go back to Africa and serve people and show them there is hope,” Maestas said.
Shane Palmer – Endeavor Academy
Childhood was a time of struggle for Shane Palmer. Born a female, Palmer identified as a male at a young age.
“I was bullied because I looked different,” Palmer said. “I tried to be tomboyish.”
The battle that was raging inside Palmer took its toll. “By ninth grade I was cutting and punching. I was failing in school.”
Fortunately, that’s when Palmer found Endeavor Academy. There, he found acceptance and support.
“It was one of the best choices I ever made,” he recalls.
Through Endeavor, Palmer attended a diversity conference and discovered people he could relate to and resources he could rely on. He began to work through issues with his family and friends and has established a positive path for his future.
Alaysia Macon Robinson – Overland High School
Alaysia Macon Robinson always looked out for her seven brothers, especially since they grew up in an abusive home.
“My mother didn’t love herself enough to love her children,” Robinson explained.
Her mother abandoned the family more than once. Robinson took care of her siblings and also her aunt, who suffered a stroke, and her grandmother, who passed away. Being a caregiver meant Robinson missed a lot of school, though school was a place she loved to be.
“School was my refuge,” Robinson said. “When I was at school, I could be who I wanted to be.”
At Overland High School, Robinson found her teachers to be a constant source of help and support.
“They always made sure I felt important,” Robinson said.
They also helped her develop an exciting plan for her future. This fall Robinson will attend the Community College of Pima. Later she plans to transfer to a four-year university and become a therapist.
Haley Rogers – Cherokee Trail High School
“I am not angry about the things that have happened to me,” said Haley Rogers, a senior at Cherokee Trail High School. “They have made me who I am.”
Rogers lost her dad to a heart aneurysm in 2013. Two years later, as her senior year was beginning, she lost her mother to breast cancer.
“I felt like I was losing everything,” Rogers said.
Rogers was her mother’s caregiver during her battle with cancer. The pain and the drugs often made her mother incoherent, but Rogers recalls one day when her mother said, “I love you , baby.”
With those words in her heart and mind, Rogers made it through her senior year and will attend Brigham Young University this fall on a track scholarship.
Bri Roman – Eaglecrest High School
For lacrosse player Bri Roman, the trouble started during her sophomore year. She developed a limp that led to a lengthy doctor’s appointment and a terrifying diagnosis.
“My x-rays showed no bone in my hip. I had a “hollow hip” and possible cancer,” Roman said.
Fortunately, the large tumor turned out to be benign, and after eight months on crutches, Roman was back on the field. After her junior year, however, the tumor returned and required a second surgery, which took place last summer. Determined to play her senior season, Roman focused on recovery and rehabilitation. She not only played as a senior, she served as captain of the EHS varsity lacrosse team.
Her experience has impacted her college and career plans. This fall she will study holistic medicine at Red Rocks Community College.
The Cherry Creek Schools District congratulates all of these remarkable, resilient students, and wishes them continued success as they begin the next chapter of their lives.