PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Graduating high school and walking across the stage to get your diploma is a special feeling. For one group of students graduating in South Jersey on Wednesday night, that feeling is magnified times ten.
Your name called at graduation, an honor for perseverance and academic achievement. But among the hundreds preparing to receive their diplomas at Vineland High School, these students have overcome incredible obstacles.
Just as they were starting senior year, their hometowns in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands were ravaged by hurricanes Irma and Maria.
“My house was all messed up and all the windows were shattered,” said one graduate.
“I didn’t have power, I didn’t have water. It was very hard for me to adjust. Sometimes classes would start and the power would go off or we had no water,” said Alexa Martir-Rodriguez.
After missing more than 3 months of school in Puerto Rico, Martir-Rodriguez came to Vineland to live with her aunt, hoping to still graduate on time.
“I do my best to talk but Spanish is my first language so I was nervous about this,” said Martir-Rodriguez.
She wasn’t alone. More than 100 children from hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico came to the Vineland School District this year.
“They had lived through something horrible. They came some of them with nothing, they’re so brave,” said Sonya Bertini, a teacher at Vineland High School.
Fortunately, the district has numerous Spanish speaking teachers who helped the students catch up on their studies while they learned English.
“As a teacher, I’m so touched. I really am, they are my heroes,” said Bertini.
They made it to graduation through support from the community and each other.