By Toni Konz Tatman | JCPS Communications
More than 6,500 seniors in Jefferson County Public Schools will graduate as part of the Class of 2018.
“Earning a high school diploma is one of the most meaningful experiences in a students’ life, and I’m proud of the hard work and commitment our seniors have invested to reach this point,” JCPS Superintendent Dr. Marty Pollio said.
“With the help of dedicated teachers, supportive school leaders and families as well as valued community partners, JCPS is preparing graduates for success in college, career and life. I look forward to celebrating these students at eight commencement ceremonies this year, a first for me as superintendent. Congratulations to the Class of 2018!”
Many seniors have overcome great odds to graduate. Here are some of their stories, as featured by local media:
Danielle Estoesta, Waggener High School
Danielle was born in the Philippines and moved to Louisville with her family in 2012. She went to Westport Middle School and then to Waggener High, soaring to the top of her class. Then, days into her senior year, her U.S. visa expired, forcing her back to the Philippines to get a new one.
"I was very sad because my mom was going to leave me alone there. It was very hard because it's like very different and I wouldn't be able to see my friends and experience the joy of senior year," Estoesta said.
Fortunately, she was able to stay in school through online classes, with the help of faculty and staff at Waggener.
Shawn Dent, Marion C. Moore School
When Shawn Dent walks through Moore High School, memories fill the hallways. But not all of his memories are happy ones.
"They could've threw me out the door. They could've kicked me out," Dent said. "I was hanging out with the wrong crowd."
"It's crazy, because the same school I got locked up in (during) my sophomore year is the same school that's trying to get me into college," he said.
Rufina Arce, Seneca High School
Rufina Arce says she beat the odds.
"I got pregnant my sophomore year and gave birth my junior year," Arce said.
She had the support of her family but feared the school would be another story.
"My priority was to still graduate and be there for my child," Arce said.
She gained the trust of school counselor Carlos Rullan, whom she credits a great deal of her success.
Danisha Malone, Jeffersontown High School
Sitting underneath dozens of colleges’ pennants in Jeffersontown High School’s “college room,” senior Danisha Malone recounted the times death or near-death experiences nearly knocked her off track.
Malone lost her aunt her sophomore year, she said, making her grades suffer. Soon after getting back on track, many of her friends were shot on the streets. All survived, she said, but it again took a toll on her schoolwork.
“I take it as a blessing because I want for my kids to have better than that,” Malone said. “I don’t want my kids to ever experience it. I want a better life for them.”
Shelby Berry, Marion C. Moore School
The afternoon of a 90-degree, sunny day, a Marion C. Moore School senior, Shelby Berry, walked into her counselor’s office, fanning herself and asking for a Band-Aid to cover a blister. She had been outside, helping special needs students at a freshman field day.
She plans to help people in the future, too. After attending the University of Louisville, Berry plans to become an English teacher or continuing her Health Science Academy studies by going into the medical field.
While Berry will graduate Friday as one of the school’s Health Science Academies’ most improved students, her dedication to school wasn’t always there.
“I always wanted to fit in with everyone, especially with kids that weren’t necessarily the best kids,” Berry said. “I just wanted people to like me and a lot of times it caused me to make decisions that weren’t so good.”
Demarcus Camp, Valley High School
For Demarcus Camp, the classroom used to be a daunting place.
"Reading at a lower level than anyone else and some of my writing," he says.
Growing up in the west end, Demarcus says coming to Valley was just what he needed -- it helped him cross paths with his counselor, Susan Bolton.
Bolton: "Demarcus is like a breath of spring because he has never let his disabilities be more important than his abilities and he's got a lot of abilities."
Stephon Franklin, Doss High School
Stephon Franklin is a leader at Doss High School, both on the basketball court and in the classroom.
"Never in a million years would I have thought I'd be this kid," Franklin said. "Change is key."
After losing one parent to prison and the other to cancer, Franklin has pushed through tragedy to find his own success story. But even now, the 18-year-old is open about his struggles.
"At the age of 11, in sixth grade, I lost my mom to breast cancer," he said. My dad went to jail when I was 3 years old. And I was just a bad kid getting put out of class."
Dustin Neel, Jeffersontown High School
Donning a Dragonball Z shirt, a Jeffersontown High School senior, Dustin Neel, sat in an empty gym, looking at rows of folding chairs arranged for graduation practice.
His obstacles began four days after birth, when his mom became paralyzed on one side of her body. As he got older, he said, he assumed more and more responsibility between school and helping at home in the single-parent household.
At the end of his junior year, Neel began to struggle with anxiety, which he called his biggest barrier. After playing multiple instruments over seven years, he moved from the intermediate orchestra to first chair in the advanced orchestra in half a year, causing the anxiety to spike.
“I was having breakdowns three times a day — mental breakdowns, panic attacks, all that kind of stuff,” Neel said. The beginning of senior year was kind of rough, he said, but through the help of his mom and his friends, he’s “cool and collected.”
Fardowsa Sharif, Iroquois High School
Walking for even five minutes is painful and tiring for Fardowsa Sharif. When she's on her feet for too long, her body gets stiff, every joint hurts and she can't move one step on her own.
Living with a debilitating disease is just one of the obstacles the Kenyan-born student has overcome to graduate high school. When she moved to the United States four years ago, she barely knew any English.
“I know she has twice as hard of a time as a regular high school student,” said Sharon Foster, an ESL teacher at Iroquois who taught Sharif. “To be successful being an immigrant, that alone is a challenge for the kids, and then to add to that her disease.”
Luckyboy Brown, Marion C. Moore School
Luckyboy Brown was born into poverty and hardship in Liberia. His family struggled but shortly after his birth his parents' lives started to turn around. That is how he got his name "Luckyboy."
Yes, Luckyboy is his real name. He gets asked that question a lot.
"That's your real name? Yeah, that's my real name and they be asking the stories behind it all that so I got to explain it to them," Luckyboy said.
"School has been tough, it was hard but, I got through it," Luckyboy said.
Luckyboy will admit that he hasn't taken life too seriously but, when he came to Moore High School for his senior year, he realized that showing up to school and doing the work was the easy part and he was making it more difficult than it needed to be. He knew grit and perseverance outside of school but hadn't applied that to his schooling until his senior year.
Matthew Kessler (and siblings Emily, Nick and Sydney Kessler), Ballard High School
Emotional. Overwhelmed. Blessed.
Those are the usual words to describe how most mother’s feel about their children on graduation day. But for the Kessler’s, it’s much more than that.
“When I think of my brother - he’s just a fighter," fellow graduate and one out of four siblings Nick Kessler said. "He’s really strong."
He has no reason to be anything less than proud of his brother’s accomplishments. This past year has been nothing short of an uphill battle as Ballard High School senior, Matthew Kessler, has already undergone two surgeries to remove a tumor growing in his brain.
Keanta Burney, Stephanie Bernardino and Antonio Juric, Western High School
By the time they even graduated from high school, Keanta Burney, Stephanie Bernardino and Antonio Juric will have already earned their associate's degrees from Jefferson Community & Technical College (JCTC), as part of Western's Early College Program.
They are among 16 seniors from Western High to achieve this goal this year.
Western students are able to earn up to 60 college credits within the Early College Program by the time they graduate high school, tuition-free. The program includes the on-campus experience, where students can take their junior- and senior-year courses on JCTC's campus as a full-time college student.
WFPL's Roxanne Scott spoke to all three students about their struggles, how taking college courses has prepared them for college, and their next steps.
Tia Humprey, Atherton High School
In foster care at the age of five, then adopted, then back in foster care, Tia Humphrey had every excuse not to keep going. However, she's graduating with honors on Saturday, thanks to school and music.
Crowded into the gym at Atherton High School, the class of 2018 prepares to take their final steps of high school, reflecting on the accomplishments of the last four years.
"I've been student of the month a few times," Tia Humphrey said. "And of course band. I was first chair in my band class."
By all accounts, Humphrey should not be here. "Sometimes it was hard in school trying to pay attention when I was wondering where I was going to live," Humphrey said.
Despite all the odds, she's graduating with honors and ready for the next step. "Oh, next year is exciting. I plan on majoring in secondary math education."
Vannetty Coffee, Atherton High School
Vannetty Coffee was separated from her incarcerated birth mother at 6 months old. She was placed into foster care and jumped around from home to home.
She attended 10 different high schools before landing at Atherton High School as a junior in the fall of 2017. She tested out of senior level classes and her counselors told her she was eligible to graduate early.
"When home is a really toxic environment, coming to school was like OK, even if there are fights going on, even if there are arguments, I am still going to be safe here, so I found safety at school. So I said I might as well excel here if not anywhere else," she said.
Vannetty, like many other students, thank creative writing teacher Susan Smuskiewicz, for providing love and embracing her life experiences.
It was then she was able to use poetry as her way to cope with adversity.
Congratulations to all of our graduates in the Class of 2018!