Graduation contest winners tell unique and inspiring stories

Earlier this year, the PBS NewsHour Student Reporting Labs program challenged students to participate in the American Graduate Road to Graduation competition by profiling teens who overcame unique obstacles on their paths to success. Over a dozen schools filed stories, and they were all inspiring.

First place goes to the Reporting Lab at Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation, which captured the story of Class of 2015 graduate, Quajon Avila.

Congratulations Shakaine Grant, Ricky Guillen, Sulayman Jawara and Tesharr Roque.

This video was produced by Shakaine Grant, Ricky Guillen, Sulayman Jawara and Tesharr Roque of Renaissance Charter High School for Innovation. Mentor support provided by Lauren Wanko of NJTV and WNET.

Quajon was not always sure that he would make it to graduation. He told the young reporters about the difficulties he faced with his family over the years, often forcing him to sleep on stairs or at friends’ houses because he was too scared to go to his own home. The young man defines himself as a “family man [whose] family broke apart.” Throughout his high school career, Quajon was often let down by those he thought he could trust. But disappointment helped him define his own goals. He used to work hard academically to make his mother proud; now he works hard for himself.

Quajon plans to begin community college in the fall to study business and culinary arts, then hopes to transfer to Syracuse University.

Tesharr Roque, a rising sophomore and the production team’s leader, said that Quajon’s story stood out to him and his fellow filmmakers because Quajon did not originally want to be at school but in the end, after being kicked out by his own family, decided to pick himself up and push himself through high school anyway.

“He wants his future to be bright,” Tesharr said.

Second place goes to Pleasure Ridge Park High School, which told the story of Brittany Auvil, a recent high school graduate who faced a series of setbacks both in her early childhood and in high school.

When Brittany was just six-weeks old, her mother left the infant with a babysitter and disappeared. The twenty-year old college student decided to raise Brittany as her own child.

This video was produced by Alicia Coyle, Teresa Estrada and Katie Hack of Pleasure Ridge Park High School.

Third place goes to Jersey Village High School for Vanessa Halastaras’ story.

Vanessa found her passion in her high school’s television program after years of difficulty with her family and at her former school. Vanessa was sent to live with her grandparents from the ages of 4 to 12 when her stepfather decided that the environment she and her mother were living in was unhealthy. While at her first high school, a dispute with the dean caused her to transfer to Jersey Village High School, where she fell in love with filmmaking.

Vanessa plans to attend Savannah College of Art and Design and hopes to pursue a career in film.

This video was produced by Edwin Chavez, Carly Mark, Rachel Morgan and Ariana Perez of Jersey Village High School.

The American Graduate Road to Graduation competition was sponsored by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen initiative.