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Overcoming the odds in high schoolJune 10, 2012 @ 5:42 pm (Updated: 12:23 pm - 6/11/12 )
Two weeks of high school graduation ceremonies begin for more than 80,000 seniors in Washington who will cross a stage to accept their diploma, move the tassel on their cap from right to left, and pose for pictures with misty-eyed parents.
Generally when journalists do stories about "kids today" the news involves something that's wrong with teenagers. This is not one of those stories. The class of 2012 has some amazing students.
Ballard High School's Mikael Perla was diagnosed with leukemia, underwent numerous treatments throughout his four years, and was still able to maintain strong grades. He's a valedictorian, heading to the University of Washington this fall to study pre-med.
The summer before his freshman year, Mikael had a growth on his head that doctors thought was an ingrown hair.
"My wife, a nurse, had feelings that the simple diagnosis was wrong," says Juan Perla, Mikael's father. "After surgery to remove the ingrown hair we were told it was something far more serious - acute lymphocyte leukemia."
"It's a blood cancer," says Mikael. "I'm not 100 percent sure about what cell it is exactly, but I remember being told the diagnosis. I don't think I was sad. I just couldn't wrap my brain around what was ahead for me."
The spongy tissue inside bones where blood cells are made are affected by the cancer. The word "acute" comes from the reality that the disease progresses rapidly. It is the most common type of cancer in children, but there's generally a good chance for a cure.
"I never pictured myself dying or anything like that. I just never thought that was a possibility, even though, I knew in the back of my mind it was," he says.
Think back to your high school days. It's a challenge for anyone to fit in, especially someone who misses a lot of school for cancer treatments which wore him down.
When he was healthy enough to go back to class, his mom went to school with him, helping Mikael with his books and helping him up and down the stairs at Ballard High School. Mom in school is something no teen wants. But he didn't have another option.
"He was pretty weak," says Juan Perla, "But he's a tough kid."
The hardest part of the process was when he lost his hair.
"That's when it became real. I couldn't go out in public and look normal. I wore a hat, but you couldn't really disguise it. That was the hardest part," Mikael says.
Now the hardest part is realizing after finally getting to a place in high school where he feels close to normal, it's time to leave school. He's graduating, just when it feels like school is beginning for him.
He's graduating with a 4.0 grade point average. Mikael won't be giving a speech during his commencement ceremony on June 18, but he does have advice for undergrads.
"I'd want people to know how many people actually care about them that they don't realize," he says. "I'd also tell other students to never give up and always try their hardest."
Other great high school grads with the class of 2012:
Enrico Hipolito, from Center School in Seattle, maintained a 3.42 GPA with a load of rigorous college prep and AP classes, plus Running Start, all while being part of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Corps 6-7 hours a day for four years. Will be the first in his family to attend college.
Cleveland High School's Robert Bales is an amazing violinist who teaches violin to young African-Americans in his community.
Seven years ago, Francisco Martinez's family brought him to US from Honduras to receive medical treatment for injuries suffered in a house fire. In the fire, 90 percent of his body received third-degree burns. The Garfield graduating senior has spent his time speaking to other students who are trying to overcome challenges.
Choega Thundrup at Ingraham High School is an immigrant from Tibet who was tortured when he went to see the Dalai Lama. He was granted refugee status and brought up in the foster care system. He'll attend community college after graduation.
By LINDA THOMAS
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