Man, being a teenager is misery sometimes. But most of us forget how much good fortune we have or had back then. For those who did not, these are kindred spirits who, no matter what, will walk the stage this month

Colt Brock, Lake Highlands High School

Colt spent senior year dealing with the loss of his brother. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Colt always had shared a room with his older brother Braxton, even after Braxton finished high school and went to work doing what he loved—mechanics and working with his hands. Braxton didn’t go off to college, but he labored some 50 hours a week.

“All he knew was work,” Colt says. The twin bed where is brother once slept inches away, is empty now. When Colt returned at the beginning of the school year, there were few at Lake Highlands High School who didn’t know Braxton had died, killed in a hit-and-run motorcycle accident in early August. When police woke the family to direct them to the hospital, Colt prepared himself. “I knew whatever it was, I had to hold myself together, because I knew my mom was not going to be able to take it,” Colt says. “I had to keep it together.”

Braxton, on his brother’s beat-up phone. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Most of Braxton’s organs were healthy, and he had always spoken ardently of being an organ donor. He didn’t drink or party, his family says, so they expected viable parts. But they had to move fast.

Six people received Braxton’s life-saving organs and 75 others benefited. Skin, bone, eyes — almost everything was put to use. Braxton wasn’t the sentimental type.

“I recall thinking at the funeral services, he may not have liked everyone in this room, but he loved all of them, and would have given any one the shirt off his back.”

Giving his organs was a small catharsis, Colt says. 

Police still are searching for the white pickup truck, caught only in blurry images on a Plano street camera. Says Colt:“I can’t — none of us can — look at a white truck without thinking about it.”

He focused all year on academics, his dream of becoming an architect, work that busies his mind and inspires creativity. Ever the clean-shaven one, Colt, when we last saw him, had a bushy beard. He started growing it the day of the accident, he says. Now he sees a bit of his brother in the mirror each morning. —Christina Hughes (full story)


Fatima Mendoza, Erma Rangel High School 

From 15 and pregnant to 18 and graduating with scholarship offers aplenty. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Pregnant at 15. It’s not a fun situation. Not reality TV. It’s really real, it’s a daily challenging life change and it decreases a mother’s odds of completing her education, much less moving upward to that of a higher level. But Carmen (a standout soccer player in her years at Erma Rangel High (varsity squad as a freshman, sidelined by pregnancy and motherhood, back on the field her senior year, leading the team to district playoffs) will defy those odds.

School was always Carmen’s thing. She likes math and wants to be a forensic accountant; she’s been offered several scholarships: $31,000 from Southern Methodist University, $20,000 from the University of North Texas at Dallas, $20,000 from the University of Texas at Arlington. If anything, having a child so young has motivated Carmen to work even harder than before. “Every day when I wake up, I feel unmotivated,” she says. “But then I think about my future, and I think about how I am going to provide for my daughter.” —Rachel Stone (full story)


Efron Genet, LHHS

Efron has his nickname because it’s the one thing his alcoholic, late father gave him. (Photo by Danny Fulgencio)

Efron could be pegged as a politician in the making, though he wants to be a doctor. Outgoing, charismatic — he’s the type who treats strangers as lifelong friends. Efron doesn’t introduce himself as Fitsum, his given name. (He tells peers his name is Efron, just like the actor.) His father, though, gave him the nickname when he was a baby.

“I like it because it’s one of the good things my dad gave me,” he says. He hasn’t seen his dad since he immigrated from Ethiopia to the United States when he was 9. His mother wanted her son to have better financial and educational opportunities. She worked several jobs to send his family money for necessities and pay for Efron’s private school education, where he learned English. He remembers his dad as an alcoholic, thus doesn’t touch the stuff. Efron learned his dad died from a heart attack in March. The news hasn’t registered yet, and Efron says he’s unsure if he’s begun to grieve. 

“I’m angry that he died before he saw me succeed,” Efron says. And succeed he has—now an honor roll student, Efron played football and ran track. He credits football coach, Lonnie Jordan, for increasing his work ethic and confidence. He regularly volunteers at Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Garland. After graduation, he will attend Aurora University in Illinois, West Texas A&M University or A&M Commerce, depending on the financial aid he receives. Efron is paying his college tuition by himself, and he hopes to graduate with little debt so he can eventually afford medical school. —Elissa Chudwin (full story)


Hector Castellano Camejo, Hillcrest High School

The Venezuelan asylum seeker made all-region playing the violin, a borrowed violin, because he doesn’t have his own.

On his first day of  10th grade at Hillcrest High School, a slim Hector Castellano Camejo stood on the school’s sidewalk alone as the son of parents new to the U.S. on political asylum. Behind him were years of his family’s suffering under socialism in Venezuela and his own experience being bullied as a 210-pound Christian. In just three years, he would earn a 3.9 GPA, attend a summer law program at Stanford, study violin with a Dallas Symphony member and become his school’s orchestra concertmaster. But first Hector had to learn English.“It was one of the most terrifying things I had to face,” he says. “The lack of the English language not only took my voice, but it took my confidence.”

Hector says he had two options: stay behind and hate everything or give it his all. He started by joining the school soccer team and learning to play the violin. “People here were always four or five steps above me. If they were giving one, I had to give three. If they were giving two, I was giving five. I was trying to make myself get to their level.”

Hector embraced community service as part of the Hillcrest’s Key Club, helping to set up a garden at Franklin Middle School. “It’s a beautiful thing to give something back to this nation.” During his sophomore year, Hector made the all-regional orchestra. His violin is a loaner from the school. “I don’t have a violin of my own,” he says. Still, he made the chair. His family taught him that in the face of his homeland’s adversity, it’s important to be humble, work hard and be kind. “It was out of all this misery and corruption that my dream career came,” he says. “I want to change the government. I want to be a lawyer.” He’s gained acceptance to colleges, but is working on the funding. —Lisa Kresl

Note: Hector’s sister set up a Gofundme to raise money for a violin and college.