Graduation season is upon us, and there is no shortage of inspiring stories from our local seniors. Many have overcome all sorts of obstacles to make it to this milestone.
Jaaylyn Mack: The Academy at Shawnee
Jaaylyn Mack has a 3.61 GPA, has taken several AP courses and just landed a full-ride scholarship to the University of Louisville. That's impressive enough on its own, but even more so when you learn more about his upbringing.
“We grew up on 36th and Market my whole life,” Mack said.
Mack’s mom raised 11 kids on her own.
“Unfortunately, she had to drop out her freshman year of college when she had her first kid. Back then, they didn't have dorms and stuff and she couldn't really afford it. So, she had to go home and start working again,” Mack said.
He's the youngest and grew up watching several siblings struggle with life on the street.
"Being a boy and not having a father in my life, I looked up to them. So, I really wanted to be like them, but then I saw how much it hurt my mom so I really wanted to do right by her. Being little, I didn't really know what was going on. I just knew I didn't want to be like him. I don't think I was supposed to know some of the things I knew," Mack said.
He said his mom and older sister inspired him to stay strong no matter what and committed to his education. It's that same mentality he wants to pass along to future generations in his community.
“Everybody needs somebody, and humans thrive off interaction with each other. I really appreciate my friends. I love them with everything I've got in me. They're not only friends, they're family. Out of my whole friend group back on 36th, nobody is going to college except me. So, it's really like carrying a torch type of deal. I feel like the only way to grow a flower is to plant it yourself. So, you've really got to take care of the people who made you who you are. There's not enough people coming back to help other people make it out so I feel like I want to be one of those people. I want to help show kids that higher education is really the way. That's the way to go in life, just uplifting others as you go up yourself. I'm just ready to build a foundation just for people in the West End and all communities really. Carry the torch and pass it along to those who will come after you,” Mack said.
Mack’s got a long list of extracurricular activities that include National Honors Society, student council, Whitney Young Scholars and Men of Quality. He’s in the manufacturing program at school and will earn a certified production technician certificate. He runs track and field, manages varsity basketball and serves as a student aide and peer mentor.
Mack is majoring in Sports Administration at UofL. The senior wants to be an athletic director for a college one day and coach kids in local sports programs. He graduates on Saturday, June 8.
Samuel Osorio: Iroquois High School
Samuel Osorio is a senior at Iroquois High School and came to the country by himself when he was just 14-years-old. The now 19-year-old had never been to school before he came to the U.S. Now, he's thriving with a 3.5 GPA.
He's from Guatemala and moved to the U.S. to help support his mom and two sisters. Osorio planned on working right way, but he was told he had to go to school if he came here.
He started at Iroquois in November 2015 without knowing any English or Spanish. He only spoke his native dialect from Guatemala.
"I was alone. It was scary because I had never been to school. When I got here, I didn't know where to go. It was hard to meet and communicate with the people," Osorio said.
Osorio didn't let that stop him, though. He worked hard and is now getting ready to graduate in just a couple weeks.
"I'm so proud because now I can see what I learn this year, and I've learned more. I talk with my mom every day. She is doing okay. She is happy," Osorio said.
The teen hopes his story inspires others to value their education.
"When I came here five years ago, I never thought I'd be here in this school. Stay positive and always think positive because education is important. That's the only thing you can do is to stay positive and try to do good things and respect all the people so you can live a happy life. If you do your work, you can get to where you want, and it's a better life for you in the future. It's a big opportunity," Osorio said. "Never give up. Don't think you are nothing. You can do the things if you work. Never give up. You can reach your goal if you work."
After graduation, Osorio wants to work for Ford. He recently earned his welding certificate from school and said he can't wait to put it to good use. Osorio graduates from Iroquois on Monday, June 10.
Aline Murerwa: Ballard High School
Getting to the graduation stage is extra sweet for Ballard High School senior, Aline Murerwa. She's overcome unimaginable odds to make it to the milestone.
She is only 19, but she is definitely wise far beyond her years. Murerwa moved to the U.S. from Africa in 2016 after escaping the war in her native Congo. She was just nine-years-old when soldiers raided her village and forced her to run away.
"That was tough, that was really tough because everyone was running to save his life. They were burning houses. They didn't care if there were people inside. They were just coming and burning, coming and burning. So, I ran away. I didn't know where I was going," Murerwa said. "I met with my brother. It was at dark. It was at night. I had a feeling that this was my brother, call him, and he said is that you Aline, and I said yes it's me, wait for me, and he waited for me and grabbed my hand and we kept running."
They found each other, but got separated from her parents and other brothers. They somehow made it to Kenya where they lived for the next six years. It was there Murerwa got to go to school for the first time when she was 10-years-old, but life was still very difficult.
"In Kenya, life was so bad. Most of the time, I would ask my brother, where do we belong? We didn't know the language that they speak," Murerwa said.
She eventually got to go to school for the first time there after a teacher helped her.
"They started from ABCD, and maybe at that time I was like 10 to 11," Murerwa said.
Her brother, sister-in-law, and five nieces and nephews moved to the U.S. in 2016. For years, they all assumed the rest of their family was killed in the war until they got a phone call one day last year. The same agency they worked with to come to the U.S. found Murerwa's parents and brothers in Kenya. They haven't seen each other yet, but Murerwa said she gets to talk to her mom every day now.
"When I knew they were still alive, I was so happy," Murerwa said.
She said coming to Kentucky changed her life forever and getting her education makes her whole family so proud.
"I know what I can do to make my life to continue to be better so that's why I chose to go to school," Murerwa said. "My life is really better. I really appreciate at the point I am at now. Life is so fun."
The rest of Murerwa's family is still working on moving to the U.S. After graduation, she is heading to Campbellsville University. She got a four-year scholarship and will study Computer Engineering.