The class of 2023 started high school ready for new experiences — more freedom, college planning, football games, learning how to drive and all the other milestones that come with it.
Then Spring Break 2020 happened. They never returned to campus. The COVID-19 pandemic caused schools to close the rest of the year. The next year, much of school was online only. This year’s graduating class didn’t get its “normalcy” back until junior year.
Despite it all, they still found ways to thrive, connect with each other, take care of their families and get accepted to top colleges.
Class of 2023, congratulations. In honor of your accomplishments, the Fort Worth Report will share some of your stories.
Mother’s illness teaches Fort Worth ISD senior independence
Breanna Hernandez’s mom always had beautiful hair — long with highlights and curtain bangs. The last time Hernandez saw that hair, it was on the tile floor of her kitchen after chemotherapy treatments.
Hernandez’s mother is now cancer free, but her breast cancer diagnosis forced the TCC South Fort Worth ISD Collegiate High School senior to grow up faster than she wanted to. Caring for her mother taught her independence, which allowed the senior to graduate with her associate degree from Tarrant County College and her high school diploma in the same year.
“My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I was the only one that knew for a time so it was just kind of me and her doing our thing,” Hernandez, 18, said. “It was very scary. I had to put on a brave face and be there for her. I don’t think normal 14-year-olds to 15-year-olds have to do that.”
Her mother grew up in Mexico and didn’t get to go to high school, Hernandez said. Her grandfather didn’t let her mother get an education — so she went to secretary school and paid for high school night classes.
Hernandez will attend Texas A&M University in the fall and study forensic science — fulfilling her mother’s dream for her to attend college. The dual credit program at the Collegiate High School helped Hernandez get two years of school out of the way so can afford to pursue her bachelor’s degree.
“She’s always wanted to push us to do more and get this education because it’ll take us a step further in life,” Hernandez said of her mother encouraging her and her brothers. “I think about it in everything I do, because I know it’s something that she wants for me. I recognize that it’s something that I can take advantage of being born here and being able to have all these opportunities.”
– Kristen Barton
She found ways to better support students
Four years ago, Caila Reid would have described herself as an introvert.
Now, she is graduating as the president and founder of a student club.
Reid led the Black Student Union at Crowley Collegiate Academy. She took over her sophomore year when her fellow founders graduated.
During her first two years at the campus, Reid noticed that students were not receiving the same attention as those at North Crowley High and Crowley High, who had counselors and administrators to turn to.
However, at Reid’s campus, she noticed the small staff meant a small student support system, she said.
So, she decided to create one.
Through the Black Student Union, she found a way to provide her classmates, especially those of color and low-income students, with the guidance they needed.
The club created a space for them to voice concerns and receive help with things like college and job applications.
To Reid, graduating is another one of her many milestones that symbolize growth.
Her next milestone will be college — and possibly going to Scotland. She plans to study public relations and computer science at the University of Texas at Austin and later hopes to attend the University of Glasgow for software engineering.
She plans to tackle college like high school — with determination.
“I refused to let anyone think that I couldn’t do it,” she said.
— Sara Honda
He took on new responsibilities
Jiovannie Martinez has mixed emotions as graduation approaches.
He’s excited to attend Babson College in Massachusetts — on a full-ride scholarship. However, he’s nervous about leaving his family, especially after the past couple of years they have endured.
In 2021, his mother tested positive for COVID-19, he said. Her illness turned for the worse. She had to go to the hospital, then died from the virus.
Martinez, 17, and his younger sister left their home to go live with their grandparents. Martinez picked up a part-time job to help his grandparents, who are on limited income, and to save money for college.
“I wanted to make sure that my grandparents wouldn’t have to pay anything for my college, and that’s also why I’m working now to be able to save up and help pay the bills for my grandparents,” he said.
Martinez is looking forward to an event his school is hosting to celebrate students picking a college. His grandma plans to hold a photo of his mom.
“My mom always wished the best for me,” he said.
— Jacob Sanchez
He seized as many opportunities as he could
Hornel Cloubou’s parents instilled in him to seize every opportunity he could.
His family immigrated to the U.S. from Benin on the west coast of Africa when he was a baby. His parents wanted their children to flourish in a way only America could offer.
And Cloubou, 18, followed their advice.
Name a sport and he was in it. Football? Check. Basketball, track and field and baseball? Check, check and check — even though he readily admits he wasn’t the best at baseball.
Same with extracurriculars. He was in band, choir, mariachi and even went to nationals in Business Professionals of America.
Yet, he still maintained a perfect GPA. He was fourth in his class at Lake Worth High School, a placement with which Cloubou is happy.
“I could have tried to move up, but I would have had to sacrifice my experiences. I would have had to cut off band and football,” he said. “I feel like the experience is worth way more than just a simple rank.”
Cloubou earned a scholarship to play football at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls. He plans to major in mechanical engineering — for now.
“There are so many things in the world that you could do, and if I could do them all, I really would,” he said.
— Jacob Sanchez
From shy kid to salutatorian
Abraham Sawan, despite his shyness, loved theater since seventh grade.
During his sophomore year at L.D. Bell High School in Hurst, everything changed when one of the students playing a leading character role in their competition play fell ill. It was at that moment that he took the stage for the first time.
From that day on, Sawan would do anything his theater teacher threw at him, but his priorities changed after deciding to focus on one of his goals.
“I wanted my parents to have a kid be in the top ten,” he said.
His siblings got good grades but never reached the top ten in their classes. Sawan was determined to be the first.
He stepped back from theater and picked up some Advanced Placement, and International Baccalaureate classes, for his junior and senior year.
Now, Sawan is receiving the fruit of his labor as the salutatorian of the 2023 class.
“I feel like I spent too much time taking AP and IB classes, I missed out,” he said.
Sawan will return to the stage in his theater classes at the University of Texas at Arlington in the fall as he majors in electrical engineering and math.
“I’m also excited to move on because of the freedom of being in college,” he added.
— Juan Salinas II
She wants to be a major figure in neuroscience
All Karime Gutierrez wanted to do in high school was be the best person she could be.
Along the way, she ended up as the valedictorian for Everman High School.
“It wasn’t ever a goal I wanted to achieve,” Gutierrez said. “I was always trying my best.”
Gutierrez, 18, readily admits she wasn’t the best student in elementary and middle school. Once she hit high school, suddenly it clicked for her — this mattered and she knew it would count for her future career.
Gutierrez wants to be a neurosurgeon. She plans to study neuroscience at the University of Texas at Austin then eventually go to medical school.
She loves science and working with her hands. She wants to be in the field that she sees as on the cutting edge.
“It’s one of the fields that’s going to really revolutionize the world. I want to be one of those figures,” Gutierrez said. “I want to do something that will help other people.”
— Jacob Sanchez
Broken bones clarified this Cassata Catholic High School graduate’s career choice
Growing up, Madison Silva’s teammates called her “Glass” because she was often injured in any of the multiple sports she played.
She’s broken her ankle, collarbone, both elbows, wrists and some fingers. Sitting in that doctor’s office and getting X-rays and casts over and over again inspired her: She wanted to be a doctor one day.
But once August of 2021 hit, her reason for visiting hospitals changed. Her father was diagnosed with COVID-19. He needed to be intubated and have an extended stay.
“I didn’t have the opportunity to go to school. I was with my dad, like almost every day at the hospital, taking care of him, my sister and my mom was at work,” Silva, 18, said. “I really never got to think of what my plans were going to be.”
She and her family decided Cassata Catholic High School would be her best bet to graduate. The school aims to help students who need a non-traditional school setting to succeed. The self-paced curriculum helped Silva catch up to graduate on time.
Between the pandemic shutting down schools and her father’s time in the hospital, Silva didn’t get a typical high school experience. Now that her father is almost completely recovered, she’s looking forward to attending Tarleton State University in the fall, the first in her family to attend college.
— Kristen Barton
She plans to carry her father’s legacy
Carolina Sartori’s teachers at Boswell High School in Eagle Mountain-Saginaw ISD saw her walk into class every day wearing a smile.
What they didn’t know was Sartori was going through a tough time at home. Her father had brain cancer.
He was the rock of Satori’s family.
But as he grew weaker, Sartori stepped up to help her mother and younger brother. She helped her mom, who is from the Czech Republic, earn a master’s degree so she could teach in the U.S. and helped her become an American citizen.
Her dad did not make it.
Sartori did her best to keep going because she did not want pity from others. She just wanted to be a kid.
“At the same time, I tried to be good at band, do good with my grades, finish in the top 10% of students and all that,” Sartori said. “It was hard — it’s hard, it’s hard. But we fought it together.”
Sartori plans to study forensic science at Texas A&M University. She picked the field because she loves puzzles and figuring out who did a crime is like one.
She picked Texas A&M because of her dad, who was from Italy but earned his master’s degree from Texas A&M University-Commerce.
“He would be proud and excited for my next chapter,” Satori said. “I want to keep his legacy and pass the torch on.”
— Jacob Sanchez
Doctors saved her. Now she plans to become one.
Kaitlynn Kosmala wasn’t sure if she would walk the stage.
She experienced headaches during the beginning of her sophomore year at Brewer High School in White Settlement ISD. Then came the double vision.
After a few months, her father took her to Cook Children’s Medical Center. Doctors performed an MRI.
They found a rare brain tumor. Surgery was the only way forward for Kosmala.
“They told me it was a life-or-death situation, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh,’” Kosmala said.
Her first thought after surgery was if she was going to fall behind in school. Then doctors told her she would have to use a wheelchair.
She was determined to not let this setback weigh her down. She kept her grades up.
Now she is graduating with her class — on time. Kosmala plans to study medicine first at Tarrant County College and then transfer to Texas Christian University. Her goal is to become a pediatrician.
Kosmala, 17, is certain of one thing for graduation.
“I’m planning to actually walk across the stage,” she said. “So I’m excited about that.”
— Taylor Coit
Northwest ISD graduate’s high school prepared her for future FBI training
Divija Anuga has a passion for investigation. Her lofty goal: to one day work for the FBI.
Many who know her would say she’s on the right track.
Anuga was a National Merit Finalist, and finished in the top 10 of her class at Steele Early College High School in Northwest ISD.
Throughout high school, Anuga was the head of the prom committee, treasurer of National Honor Society, and a member of both Student Council and the Future Business Leaders of America. She also participated in the Coppell Police Cadets program, and the National Youth Leadership Forum’s Law and CSI summer program.
“My extracurricular activities encouraged me to take initiative, serve my community, be confident in my goals, plan thoroughly, all of which are skills that I still apply to improve the quality of my schoolwork,” Anuga said.
She also, somehow, still found time to take on what she called “personal projects,” like dance choreography, short story writing and free SAT tutoring.
To her, graduating high school marks her independence.
“I can now focus on working towards my career and making a place for myself in society, and I am incredibly excited for this next chapter of my life,” Anuga said.
Anuga will spend this next chapter at Michigan State University, where she’ll study criminal justice and finance, all while being part of Spartan Zaariya, an Indian dance team at the school.
“I chose MSU because when I visited the campus, it became clear that the college is extremely supportive, friendly and welcoming,” Anuga said. “I immediately knew that I would love to be a Spartan, and later on, they surprised me with a full-ride scholarship.”
– Matthew Sgroi
Editor’s note: The Report reached out to all Tarrant County school districts to feature students, but some did not respond to multiple attempts by deadline.
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