While sports trading card collectors hunt for vintage athletes, some of the people we should cheer for the most are the graduating seniors in the Boston Public Schools. The students featured here are symbolic of those who are accepted into colleges in relative anonymity and many times against substantial, even dangerous odds. Many were accepted into prestigious private schools such as Northeastern but are attending state schools, community colleges, or technical institutes because of tuition costs.
Their ``trading card" biographies may not draw as much on the open market as the cardboard ones for a baseball Hall of Famer. But if they achieve their goals, they will be far more valuable to all of us years from now.
The 5-foot-9-inch, 155-pound Brandon Hyatt expects to be on the run in the world of business management, which he will study at Wentworth Institute of Technology. He already understands what hard work means more than most 18-year-olds.
An adopted child who had strained family relations, Hyatt lived on his own as a junior and senior. He has worked at pharmacies and clothing stores as much as 50 hours a week. He worked himself up to manager level at a CVS. ``I worked so much that I couldn't play sports, and my grades fell a bit," Hyatt said.
He dropped his work hours in February to make sure he completed his senior requirements. ``My life has not been easy. I know I don't have everything other people have, but I don't complain a lot," Hyatt said.
No one can out-hustle the 5-foot-4-inch, 105-pound Daisy Galeas. Like Hyatt, this 18-year-old had a complicated family situation in which her mother remarried and moved to Randolph. Rather than move out there, she wanted to finish at East Boston.
To do that she and a brother rented an apartment. She took two jobs to make her situation work. Here was her typical day as a senior: wake up at 5:45 a.m. for ROTC drills at 6:45; attend school until 1:40 p.m.; work at either the Boston Harbor Hotel or as a server on the Odyssey dinner boat from 3 or 4 p.m. until midnight; home by 1 a.m.
Asked how she studied, she said, ``Whenever I could snatch time during classes, between classes, and on the weekends."
Now she is headed to UMass at Boston to study graphic design. She said, ``It pays off to know you can be independent and you can do things on your own."
We shouldn't be surprised if someday she owns a successful graphics design firm.
The 5-foot-7-inch, 164-pound Jose Martinez is truly a flying prospect. He already has logged half-a-dozen hours of flight time in a Piper Tomahawk aircraft, with the ultimate goal of becoming an airline pilot.
The 18-year-old Martinez will start his studies at North Shore Community College, with the intention of transferring to an aviation school in Florida. He was accepted into eight schools, as far away as the University of North Dakota, but is starting at North Shore for financial reasons.
``It's so amazing what you see up there" in the air, he said. ``The first time I flew, I saw the White Mountains. I saw swamps, the buildings of Boston. Even the horizon is beautiful."
Martinez is already doing things with his trainer that would put a lump in most of our throats. ``We did some stalls, and the first time I did one, I said, `What the hell am I doing here?' But when I got the engine back up and got back control, it was the most wonderful feeling. It's like a rollercoaster ride."
Martinez was nearly grounded by street life. At 13, he said, he hung out with gang bangers and drug users. ``The turning point was when I saw how my life was reaching my family," Martinez said. ``I didn't want to hurt my mom. So I just stayed inside the school as much as I could to avoid the street. Within these walls you can do anything you can dream of. Out there, you're one of the guys going nowhere."
You might say that at 20 years old, the 5-foot-6-inch, 115-pound Mireille Kamanzi is a ``red-shirt" graduate, akin to a college athlete who sits out a year from the team for injury or personal reasons but retains all four years of eligibility. Kamanzi had lots of ``personal reasons" to contend with on her way to UMass at Boston.
Her family is a survivor of the Rwandan genocide, and her mother just missed being killed. They fled to Zambia in 1994.
In 2004, when she was in 12th grade in Zambia, her family decided to come to America. Her father had been a lawyer in Rwanda. In the United States, he had to start as an office clerk at Boston University. Kamanzi had to go back to the 11th grade.
Undaunted by setbacks, Kamanzi wants to be a lawyer, like her father was. ``My dad has become more frustrated as he's lived here," she says. ``He talks a lot about how he does more but earns less. I'm doing it [studying to become a lawyer], part because I want to be one, and part to honor the sacrifice of what he had to give up for me."
Asked if she had ever seen the movie ``Hotel Rwanda," about the hotel manager who sheltered so many people, Kamanzi said, ``It is almost like my story."
Health Careers Academy
There was a time when it seemed the 5-foot-1 1/2 inch, 116-pound Christina Joseph would not make the big leagues. She was treated for asthma as a child. It turned out that her many hospital stays became the inspiration for her to go to UMass at Lowell to study nursing.
``The doctors and nurses treated me so nice, it seemed like they cared," said Joseph, 18.
Joseph did not have it easy at home, either. Family circumstances resulted in her living with a grandmother who works nights. She turned toward her schoolwork, particularly proud of her 11th-grade pre-calculus work. ``The key for me was putting in a little bit of work every day. I think my teachers supported me a lot because they saw how hard-working I was."
At 6 feet 1 inch, 270 pounds, Johnny Bien-Aime has plowed up the field to UMass at Lowell, where he will concentrate on computer engineering. A sister is headed to UMass at Dartmouth.
He is from a Haitian immigrant family in which his father has worked his way from a taxi driver to a hotel assistant and his mother is now in a nursing assistant program. Neither parent spoke much English at first.
``My mother wanted me to pick something in the medical field, but I just like all the things you can do with computers," Bien-Aime, 17, said.
``My cousin was going to pay $300 to have her computer fixed. She thought it had a big problem. All she needed was a lot more memory. It feels good to help people like that."
At 5 feet 10 inches, and 157 pounds, Carlton Satchell has all the tools, literally. He intends to be your Mr. Goodwrench, taking up automotive technology at Benjamin Franklin Institute. He said he is influenced by relatives who know how to fix cars, from the engine to the body to the interior. He is hoping either to own his own shop or advance into automotive design. His favorite car is a Nissan Skyline R34.
``Just staying in school was the hardest part for me," said Satchell, 17. ``I got a lot of friends, but none of them are in school. My older brother dropped out of ninth grade. I was in sixth or seventh at the time. In my sophomore year I had a cousin who was in the same grade, and we wanted the same things. But he let his grades drop, and he joined a gang.
``My family went hard on me to stay in school because everyone else was dropping out. It didn't seem like it was fair, but I'm not complaining now."
A lithe 5 feet 4 inches, and 114 pounds, Alicia Bramwell is preparing for the marathon of medical school. The 18-year-old was moved to become an obstetrician by seeing a sister being born. The sister, who would have been 6, died after age 2.
``I remember asking the doctors if it was fun and exciting," said Bramwell, who is headed to UMass at Amherst. ``I hate sitting behind a desk. They told me how cool it was."
Bramwell said she loves fiction, and her favorite work is ``A Prayer for Owen Meany." The story centers around a troubled youth who accidentally killed the mother of his best friend and ultimately grew up to die in a heroic act.
Asked if she wants to be a hero through medicine, she said, ``Yes sir. I want to be part of the heroic chain. There are people out there who are fighting for us and sometimes die in the process -- police, firefighters. I want to be out there fighting for people, too."
© 2006 The Boston Globe