Six Annapolis area students overcome odds to graduate

By Hannah Anderson

Graduating from high school is a milestone for all students, but for some it's even more momentous. For a student with cerebral palsy, two who survived cancer, one who had dropped out and two who struggled academically, graduation day signifies the ability to overcome potential obstacles on the road to educational success.

GradStoriesChuckie HolmWChuckie Holm, South River High School

Because of cerebral palsy, 18-year-old Chuckie Holm is confined to a wheelchair and has difficulty speaking. He communicates through "yes" or "no" questions and by slowly typing on a computer he controls with a joystick, but that has not kept him from succeeding in school. Chuckie gets high grades and is on track to graduate with his non-disabled classmates in June.

"He's a very intelligent young man but is stuck in a body that will not function for him," explains Ellen Wasserman, special educator and reading specialist at South River. "Chuckie has every kind of difficulty you could imagine, and he's still pushing his way through to graduate in four years, when often students take longer."

Not only is Chuckie achieving his goals, but he has also maintained a positive attitude along the way.

"Chuckie is diligent, the life of the party. He's never upset; he's always happy; he's always brightening up every classroom he is in," Wasserman says.

After he graduates, Chuckie wants to go to Senior Week in Ocean City and then to college at Anne Arundel Community College and the University of Maryland. He hopes his story of perseverance will inspire others.

"If I can do it, everyone can," Chuckie says. "It is all about attitude. Keep smiling."

Click next below to read about Morgan Creek, Annapolis High student, and other graduates overcoming challenges to graduate.

GradStoriesMorgan CreekWMorgan Creek, Annapolis High School

When Morgan Creek started high school, she had no hair and was weak from chemotherapy.

At the end of eighth grade, Morgan was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and had to undergo chemotherapy treatments. She says it was very difficult entering high school without hair.

"I was a very independent person, so it was discouraging," she says. "I had to overcome that and be more open to accepting help from other people."

Now 18, Morgan says her family and friends were her support system during that difficult time.

"I knew cancer was a bad thing, but I didn't really know what it was," she says. "I was really upset when I found out I was going to lose my hair. I really cherished my hair, so I had to find something else within myself. I smile and laugh a lot, so I took interest in my teeth."

This experience helped Morgan discover her passion in life.

"I want to be a dentist because I like to see people smile," Morgan says. "Ten years from now, I want to be fixing broken smiles."

Morgan will be starting the pre-dental program at Slippery Rock University in the fall to fulfill her dream of becoming a pediatric dentist.

In an unhappy twist, Morgan now faces the challenge of helping her dad through a similar battle. Steve Creek, 57, has been diagnosed with colon cancer.

Morgan says this shared experience has brought them closer. They call the scars from their chemo ports their "matching tattoos."

Click next below to read about Will Shorter, Glen Burnie High student, and other graduates overcoming odds.

GradStoriesWill ShorterWWill Shorter, Glen Burnie High School

Being the senior class president at Glen Burnie High School would be an achievement for anyone, but the title holds extra honor for Will Shorter, who for years struggled in the classroom.

In first and second grade, Will did poorly on tests and could not keep pace with his classmates in reading and other subjects.

"The most difficult thing was seeing my classmates move faster than I could," Will says. "It was frustrating when they could complete a test quicker than I could."

In second grade, he received an Individualized Education Program, which gave him individual academic goals and special accommodations, but also placed him under the special education label.

When Will entered high school, he decided he wanted to get out from under his IEP.
"I remember the first day of high school as a nervous freshman, my principal said to us, 'Life is hard, but life is harder without an education,'" Will says. "I knew I had to overcome this challenge to be successful in life."

So, Will pushed himself academically, spending extra time mastering concepts and studying for tests. His hard work paid off.

"At my 10th grade IEP meeting, they decided I worked so hard that I didn't need an IEP anymore," Will says. "Now I'm off an IEP and am taking AP classes."

After graduation, Will plans to attend one of the four universities where he has been accepted and major in government and public policy. Then, he hopes to attend law school and run for public office.

"I like helping people, and I would like to encourage people to rise above their problems," he says.

Click next below to read about Raven Fox, Elizabeth Seton High student, and other graduates overcoming odds.

GradStoriesRavenFoxWRaven Fox, Elizabeth Seton High School

Raven Fox, 17, was recruited to play basketball for Elizabeth Seton three years ago, but this year will be the first time the point guard/shooting guard has been academically eligible to play basketball for the entire season.

At Elizabeth Seton, students can't play sports if their grade point average falls below a 2.0 or they have more than one F.

"When I started high school, I didn't know anything about being ineligible," Raven says. "My academics were never a problem before; I was always an average student in middle school."

After being ineligible to play during her entire freshman season and half of her sophomore and junior seasons, Raven's father tried to convince her to transfer to another school with less rigorous academic requirements. Instead, Raven decided to stay at Elizabeth Seton and put in the work to raise her grades.

"I knew at Seton I would have a better education and would be more successful," Raven says. "I don't think I'd be the person I am today if I had left."

Raven began attending after-school study halls, and she sacrificed social time with her friends to go home and study until she was eligible to play again.

"The hardest thing was not playing, because I had never had basketball taken away from me," Raven says. "Being without basketball motivated me, and I wanted to prove to people that I could do it."

After graduating, Raven plans to accept an offer to play basketball at a community college and then transfer to a four-year school.

Click next below to read about Carina Lopez Escobar, Annapolis High student, and other graduates overcoming odds.

GradCarinaLopezEscobarWCarina Lopez Escobar, Annapolis High School

Carina Lopez Escobar, 20, has had a unique path to graduation. At age 16 she dropped out of high school due to personal issues. A year-and-a-half later, she returned to school on her own accord.

Without going into detail, Carina describes her childhood, beginning at age 5, as "really, really rough and traumatizing." Halfway through high school, Carina decided to take time off of school to deal with the issues from her past that she had not previously sought help for.

"I did what I had to do, and then I realized that I needed to come back to school because I have dreams I want to accomplish," Carina says.

What makes her return to school even more amazing is her lack of educational support at home.

" It's hard because my parents have never pushed me to get good grades or supported me in school," Carina says. "During the year and a half that I dropped out, I learned that I have to do things for myself and not for others."

Carina says the support of her teachers and friends have been vital to her success. She recites her senior quote as inspiration for students who are struggling: "Pick a rock in the dark, and tomorrow it will shine in the light."

"Get all the help you can now," Carina explains, "because in the future, that help is going to be like gold to you."

Carina plans to attend community college and then a four-year university to study law enforcement.

Click next below to read about Austin Logothetis, Severna Park High student, and other graduates overcoming odds.

GradAustinLogothetisWAustin Logothetis, Severna Park High School

When Austin Logothetis started his freshman year of high school, he had not been in school for three years. Austin, now 18, was diagnosed with Leukemia when he was in fifth grade, and he went through four years of treatment at John's Hopkins Hospital. He spent his middle school years in the hospital and started high school while he was still undergoing treatment.

Austin says a lot had changed when he returned to school in ninth grade, especially the classmates he had not seen in three years.

"The last time I had been in school was in fifth grade, so I had a little of an uphill battle getting acclimated to the high school environment," Austin says. "Everyone was different. When I was in fifth grade, everyone was who they were then, but now they were teenagers."

Three and a half years into remission, Austin is now an advocate for various cancer organizations, including Alex's Lemonade Stand, The Zachary Hebda Foundation, and John's Hopkins' Camp Sunrise, which is a free summer camp for child cancer patients and survivors. Austin says he is motivated by the memory of friends he met in the hospital who lost their battles with cancer.

"What I do is in honor of their legacy, what they have left behind," Austin says. "I want to live my life as fully as I can, because they couldn't. Their mothers and fathers couldn't see them grow up to do anything they were capable of. So what I'm doing is in memory of them."

Austin plans to attend college at the University of North Florida, and then he hopes to be accepted to an Ivy League medical school and become a pediatric cardiac surgeon.