NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Graduation is upon so many seniors.
It's a time when students, teachers and mentors wonder, "Did I really make a difference?"
East Texas News found the perfect survivor to illustrate the answer to that question is often a definite yes.
A reception for Nacogdoches ISD mentors created a stage for 18-year old-Pedro Santoyo. His written word uniquely thanks these caring individuals for creating survivors.
"The story of my life is what I'm here to tell," Pedro said. "I was born in Mexico where there is little home and life. I only stayed until I was three and crossed the border at night. I remember riding under the city lights, separated from my mother for three days and two nights."
The teen remembers feeling so different in a strange land.
Fast forward to Pedro's formative years when his family makes two moves between Houston and Nacogdoches.
"Yeah, I was like I don't want to go back to that little town," Pedro said with a chuckle.
Eventually Pedro's father returned to Mexico. Anger set in.
"I was only 13 years when I started using drugs. It went to alcohol to weed to prescription pills. I started smoking every day because I liked how it feel," Pedro said. "I didn't see nothing wrong with the actions I chose. It was spring 2011 when I first tried coke. Not even a year after my dad left, I was out of control."
Pedro was expelled. Then he was arrested and locked up. Did he learn a lesson?
"The first day I got off probation, I went and got high like the old days," Pedro said.
To make things worse, Pedro's cousin was shot and killed in a drive by shooting. Pedro snapped.
"I said, 'I can't do this no more,'" Pedro said.
Two credits shy of graduating the troubled young man dropped out. Many educators would have given up, but Nacogdoches counselors and teachers rallied.
"I remember it like yesterday," Pedro said with a laugh. "I remember getting called into the office, and mem when I usually get called into the office, I thought it was for something bad."
Instead, encouragement was provided. Some even begged, and everyone pushed.
"We push and we push hard, but for some kids that works, and it worked for him," said Mary Poret, a counselor with Nacogdoches ISD.
So Pedro did a work/study program at the Malcolm Rector Technical High School. The student who always made the grades excelled in Allison Fenton's science class.
"He might mess up, but he doesn't give up," Fenton said.
School counselor Mitchie Kenney convinced her husband, Michael, to give Pedro a job at Eastex Glass.
"Yeah, ever since I started working, I did a 180," Pedro said.
However, it took time. Pedro's future was as fragile as the glass he cut.
"I think we went through three tests by the time we finally got clean, so he was on his last test, and he finally broke the mold, and he's been clean ever since," said Michael Kenney, Pedro's employer and mentor.
Pedro finally understood his potential.
"So he's the first person in his family to graduate," said Emily Taravella, a Nacogdoches ISD counselor.
"He recognizes that education is the way out of the vicious circle his family has been caught in for generations," said Victoria Bendit, a teacher.
"Absolutely, I consider him a survivor," Poret said. "He had the deck stacked against him."
"I'm still working to survive, but I feel like I'm almost there," Pedro said. "I can't thank them enough."
Pedro Santoyo has his goals set on trade school to learn auto collision work.
His success has stirred a desire by counselor Mitchie Kenney to create with others' help,
"Mentor Nacogdoches." The work study program will launch this fall to help other students accomplish their goals and dreams.
If you have a survivors story to share or know of someone who has overcome a life challenge, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.