This spring, more than 28,000 Utah students will receive their high school diplomas.
Most take the accomplishment for granted. For honor students, student athletes, even average students, graduation is but a stepping stone to higher education or the work force.Few members of the Class of 1996 have known the challenges some graduates have faced en route to receiving their high school diplomas. For Utah's 1996 high school commencement season, the Deseret News highlights the journeys of eight graduates.
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Considering the obstacles in her path - her family's homelessness, her once pitiful grades and the draining work shifts - Mishon Wanosik shouldn't be graduating from high school this spring.
Before dropping out of East High School, Wanosik had dug herself into a deep academic hole. "In the two years I was at East, I had only three credits instead of the 14 I should have had," she said.
When she started classes at Salt Lake City School District's Horizonte Instruction and Training Center, her grade point average was below a 1.0, said teacher Daryl Hunt. She now has a B+ average and has made up all of her credits.
What's more remarkable, 17-year-old Wanosik has made the academic gains while living on her own.
Wanosik's parents live out of a 16-foot van parked behind a friend's house. When her father lost his job, the family lost its home. Over the past four years, Wanosik lived with relatives and friends before finding a place of her own. Two younger siblings are in foster care.
Wanosik works two jobs to pay the rent on a tiny mother-in-law apartment. Her meager income also must pay for her food, utilities and clothing.
Between work shifts, Wanosik has squeezed in classes at Horizonte's South City Campus. On June 6, the one-time dropout will graduate from high school with distinction.
"For me, I've had such a struggle. It's a great feat for me. I'm really happy to know I'm graduating and graduating on time. It doesn't seem possible with all the credits I had to make up," Wanosik said.
"It's a feeling of relief and accomplishment. It's another way of letting me know I can do anything if I set my mind to it."
For the past 1 1/2 years, Wanosik has only herself to rely on. She's scrimped and saved, shopping sales for food and thrift stores for clothing. She washes her own clothes, cleans her apartment and prepares her own meals.
"I shop cheap. I don't spend money on a lot of stupid stuff. I don't buy that much food. I don't eat that much, really. You know when you don't eat a lot how your stomach kind of shrinks? It's hard for me to eat a lot now," she said.
Occasionally, Wanosik's money doesn't stretch far enough. This past weekend, for instance, she came down with the stomach flu and strep throat. "I didn't think I needed to go to the doctor, but I guess I did," she said. Her boyfriend and his family paid for the doctor's visit and helped nurse her back to health over the long holiday weekend. "Good thing it was a four-day weekend so I didn't have to miss work," she said.
Wanosik is quick to acknowledge the help she receives from friends, her boyfriend and some extended family members. For the most part, she's on her own.
Given her circumstances, most people would have dropped out of school, said Daryl Hunt, who directs Horizonte's South City Campus. "She's had to struggle so hard to work and keep up with school. It's been so hard, so tough to balance that."
Wanosik said she soon realized after dropping out of school that unless she got a diploma, she would be doomed to a life of minimum-wage jobs.
"I tried to predict the future. I know how hard it is to get a job as a teenager. I pictured what it would be like when I was older without a diploma. I didn't want to be stuck in some dead-end, slave-wage job, especially when I knew I could have had a diploma," she said.
Wanosik plans to attend college to study biology, botany or geology.
Before college, though, Wanosik said she needs a break.
"I think I need a vacation from school. I haven't had a break since I was 13. I've never had a chance to be a kid. I've had to take more initiative than your average 14- or 15- year-old." - Marjorie Cortez
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Three years into college, Bang Luong Nguyen was called into the South Vietnamese Air Force.
There, he achieved the rank of major in the Air Force Signal Corps. But in April 1974, his military career and education were derailed when he was interned in a Communist concentration camp.
"It was very inhumane treatment," Nguyen said, speaking in broken English, of his 11 years in the camp.
Prisoners were fed only small quantities of rice. "Only four days a year we had meat. We took baths in a stream, but it was so shallow, it couldn't cover our bodies," Nguyen said.
Letters to his family were censored. If prison guards bothered to send the mail, letters frequently arrived one or two months late, if at all. Prisoners who dared to write about freedom, religion or describe the conditions of the concentration camps were held in solitary confinement.
"They'd put us in a small cell, no light, no water. We could wear maybe only underwear. They didn't care if was summer or winter," Nguyen said.
Ten years after his release from confinement, Nguyen is graduating from high school at Horizonte Instruction and Training Center. He has a scholarship to attend Salt Lake Community College.
Nguyen and his wife immigrated to the United States in September 1994 under a U.S. government-sponsored relocation program.
His life, it would seem, has run in circles. At 55, he will start college. Again.
Nguyen says he doesn't mind. He's had a life-long love of learning and relishes the opportunity to return to college. He will attend Salt Lake Community College on a business scholarship.
In addition to school, Nguyen works full time at a medical products assembly company.
Mostly, Nguyen wants to improve his command of English. "Right now, my English is not so good." - Marjorie Cortez
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There's a quiet politeness to Josh Anderson as he welcomes guests into his spotless Murray apartment. He offers drinks. "I made some coffee," he said, "and we've got water or Kool-Aid."
He respectfully accepts compliments about his girlfriend's artwork; dark, sultry paintings that decorate walls in the small room. He has chairs set up for the interview, and he offers a seat with a thin, extended arm and a gravelly voice like that of actor Christian Slater.
The quiet that surrounds Anderson conceals what has been the most exciting and tumultuous year of the 18-year-old's life. But there are newspaper articles and the pink jagged scars that run the length of Anderson's face to give his story away.
In November he survived an accident in which a car landed on his pelvis in the middle of I-15. A few months later, he recovered to conduct an exclusive interview with murderer John Albert Taylor before his execution.
Anderson and a classmate wrote to Taylor on a lark.
He and another student, Lindsey Ste venson, wanted to interview the convicted child-killer for the Valley Liberator, Valley High School's student newspaper. Other kids in their journal ism class got a good laugh out of their effort.
But over Christmas break, Anderson got word that Taylor had granted the interview and that it would be the only meeting with journalists before his highly publicized Jan. 26 execution.
"It was pretty exciting, to actually interview someone who was going to die," Anderson said.
Taylor answered all their questions in detail. "He wasn't practiced," Anderson said. He was quiet, calm.
"Every once in a while he moved his arms, but he didn't really fidget."
Now, with graduation approaching and a copy of the school newspaper in hand, Anderson says he's thankful for the alternative school that gave him a second chance at education.
"I don't think I would've made it through school without Valley High," he said. "They care about you there."
Posters of alternative music's Sid Vicious, Jane's Addiction and Elastic decorate the walls of Anderson's kitchen. Their display is an effort to cover up some seriously ugly wallpaper, he says, but he and his housemate girlfriend also like the chance to express their artistic side.
It's a side that for Anderson is miles away from the traditional, mainstream school system with which he constantly clashed before moving to Valley High.
"I'm glad I found (Valley)," he said. "This has been a big year." - Lucinda Dillon
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BEAVER - Summer or winter, there's no need to change the answering-machine recording at the Bradshaw family's Beaver residence.
"If you're calling for Justin, he's at the gym. If you're calling for anyone else, leave a message," Janet Bradshaw tells callers.
It's the best advice she can offer people trying to track down her second-oldest child and a strategy she uses herself. It's also a play on a local joke to which there's more than a grain of truth: Her son, Justin Bradshaw, is a little bit crazy when it comes to basketball.
Now that the 18-year-old just gradu ated from Beaver High and is headed to Dixie College this fall, this community of 3,000 can rib him about finally reclaiming keys to the town's gymnasiums - and to basketball court space long dominated by the 5-foot-9 point guard who's become a legend here.
Day after day, residents watched the lanky, shaved-headed teen pace a road outside of town. Up and down, up and down Bradshaw would travel, driven by concern that he might fatigue during a hoops game and get taken out for a few minutes.
Because he was running anyway, he joined the cross-country team. His goal was to stay in shape for basketball. Along the way, he became the state cross-country champion two years in a row.
Bradshaw's obsession to stay on the court helped him make tough higher education choices. He bypassed conversations with big schools like Purdue, Washington State and USC to play at Dixie for the year before he goes on a two-year mission for the LDS Church.
"I didn't want to just sit or play 10 minutes. I want to play."
That's his goal: to play in the pros. And although some people say he might have fudged his 5-foot-9 specs a tad, Bradshaw thinks he can do it.
To an outsider, Bradshaw might seem obsessed with basketball. He plays before school when he can, during school for two periods a day and after school until 10 or 11 p.m. His mom says he stops long enough to pound down a high carbo hydrate, no-fat meal before returning to one of the local gyms where he's spent the bulk of his young life.
Bradshaw missed Beaver High School's Junior Prom. "Had a game," he reports. Same with the Senior Ball. In fact, there was a five-month stretch from November to mid-April when the only date Beaver High's top graduate had on Friday and Saturday nights was with high school, Team USA or all-star teammates in a blur of basketball contests.
Has he overdone it? "Well, maybe a little," said Bradshaw. "I just can't see doing anything else.
It's paid off for Bradshaw, these hours of weight training, practicing and sprinting in weighted shoes toward a higher vertical leap. He was the state's 2A Most Valuable Player this year and a member of Team Utah, made up of the state's top senior basketball players.
"He's really an exceptional kid," said principal Richard Albrecht.
Earning the highest grade point average in the school - 3.991 - Bradshaw would have been school valedictorian except Beaver doesn't assign valedictorian or salutatorian status to students.
He's not sure of what his academic study will be when he returns to school after his mission. What he'll really study is basketball. How to play better, shoot more accurately and ultimately earn his way into the pros.
This summer, he'll play on the local college development team. At home, he'll strap on the weighted shoes and jump and sprint in an effort to get an extra millimeter or inch out of his vertical leap.
"It's worth it," Bradshaw said of the sacrifices and work. "It's really helped me to be focused. I see what I want to do in the future." - Lucinda Dillon
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SANDY - Olivia Wang knows about pulling up roots and adjusting to new surroundings.
The Alta High School senior has lived in eight states around the country during her 18 years. She knows how to make friends fast, how to learn the rules of a new game wherever she goes, how to catch up and catch on academically.
Since her family landed in Utah three years ago, these skills have propelled the 4.0 GPA student into the top echelons of this year's graduating class.
Born to Taiwanese immigrants, Wang said her culture hasn't clashed too much in Sandy. "Not as much as others do when it comes to people from Asian heritage," she said.
Wang was born in Michigan, but both her parents came to college in the United States from Taiwan, got married in this country and decided to stay.
Drawn by a job for her father, a chemical scientist, the Wangs moved to the Wasatch Front armed with warnings about Mormons and polygamists running rampant. "The rumors aren't true at all," she said. Utah is, however, easily the most unusual place she's lived.
There's a church on every corner, for one thing, and a fence around every yard, she says. And although the predominant LDS culture is much different from the Taiwanese heritage into which she was born, Wang and her family manage to maintain some important Eastern traditions.
What she is into, Wang says, is school. She was a state Sterling Scholar runner-up in general scholarship, a National Merit Scholar and co-captain of the school's Academic Decathlon team. She's on the varsity tennis team and next year will participate in the University of Utah's Access program, designed to encourage young women in the sciences.
She's not sure what she wants to study, but is leaning toward a career in medi cine - which might prove interesting, given her father's recent career switch.
More than a year ago, her scientist father was laid off. So, he's gone back to school - acupuncture school - at the American College of Acupuncture in San Francisco.
He's returning to his Eastern roots, which provides lots of good discussions when he comes home during his school breaks. "We're both open to the other side, but I'm always arguing for the side of Western medicine now," she said. "It's kind of a switch." - Lucinda Dillon
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WEST VALLEY CITY - James Moore was a sophomore in high school when he had his "accident." Except it wasn't really an accident, he says; and he wasn't really a student at the time, because he wasn't going to school.
"Mostly, I was doing a lot of sleeping," the Hunter High School senior said this week.
Things have changed. Moore has learned - and relearned - a lot since his best friend shot him in the head four years ago this June.
It happened after a party, early in the morning, and while he was standing in the driveway of a friend's house. Moore tried to walk away from an argument with a woman when his friend shot him with a .38 caliber pistol.
As it turned out, the gun was Moore's. He'd given it to his friend sometime during the argument.
The two young men aren't friends anymore, but as Moore looks back on a senior year in which he got B grades in mainstream classes, concurrently attended community college and was nominated by teachers for a senior award, he doesn't lament the shooting.
True, the incident changed his life, he says. "But for the better, I think."
The bullet hit him in the left temple and knocked Moore into a coma for 3 1/2 months. He woke up to another six weeks in the hospital and years of therapy. But along the way, he's repaired some things that needed fixing, he says.
"I think there was a reason I didn't die. I think there were some things I needed to learn."
Teachers and administrators who first greeted the huddled, wheelchair-bound Moore in the spring of 1993 didn't quite know what to do with him. His vision was severely blurred, and he continually dozed off in class.
"They described him as a vegetable," said Kim Smedley, Moore's assistant while the 18-year-old is at school.
Smedley spends all day with Moore. He has a little use of his left hand, and his mobility is improving, but Smedley has to help guide Moore's electric wheelchair.
She takes notes for him in classes and tutors him in a couple of study periods a day.
Moore is getting an award this week at Hunter's senior graduation awards dinner. He's knows only that he'll be honored, not what award he's getting. And it doesn't matter.
"He's very smart," Smedley said, respectfully. "He's really come a long way."
Even today, Moore struggles. He's not getting the social butterfly award this week, he knows that. He's not the type. But as he finishes the year, he's got a 3.0 GPA and a plan for his life, and he's proud of that.
He's been concurrently enrolled at Salt Lake Community College in computer classes and plans to get an associate degree in computer science before continuing his education at the University of Utah.
He also spends time talking to students, police officers, teachers, anyone really, about the circumstances of the past four years.
He tells students to respect their parents, to listen to their teachers and to treat people well and to reach out for help if they need it. He doesn't dwell on gun safety, but touches on it when he can.
He's also improved things with his folks.
"It used to be that I didn't really interact with them. I ran my own agenda. I was a rebel," he said. "I'm still a rebel, but my relationship with my parents is a lot better." - Lucinda Dillon