Gibbs High senior Jerrid Robinson literally drummed his way into the U.S. Marine Corps.
He enlisted after auditioning to play in the corps band and earning an invitation.
But he had another reason for choosing the military.
"It's me wanting to make sure I'm financially secure," explains Robinson, with no hint of sadness or anger in his voice. "My mom struggled financially before she died and never got out. My dad's struggling, and he'll never get out. I don't want to be like that."
I met Robinson and a pair of other students while visiting Gibbs for Thursday's Great American Teach-In.
As Robinson, 17, continued to share his story, fraught with family challenges yet buoyed by determination, two of his fellow seniors listened in.
Robinson said he intends to attend college during his stint so he can be a role model for his younger sisters.
When he explained that his mother, Angela Brooks, died last year, classmate Derrica Fletcher began to cry.
Fletcher, 17, said she couldn't help it. She had shared classes with Robinson for years, yet had no idea.
Tahkerra Jackson, 17, was less emotional but still moved.
Fletcher and Jackson could touch others with their own stories. Fletcher's father Derrick was shot and killed when she was in second grade. Jackson's mother Teresena died when she was in seventh grade.
Like Robinson, however, they continue to persevere and excel. Both take Advanced Placement calculus and remain on track to attend college. Fletcher has her sights set on a civil engineering degree from the University of Central Florida, and Jackson plans to earn an electrical engineering degree from the University of Miami.
The teens wanted to share an important message: Gibbs has students like them who have risen above the negative attention showered on the school over its failure to meet the state's FCAT requirements.
In words and actions, they display a sense of pride. Fletcher and Jackson, who wore Gibbs jackets, are both cheerleaders. Robinson boasts of being in the school's Pinellas County Center for the Arts program, which has produced talented graduates such as American Idol contestant Michael Lynche.
Yes, they're even a little defensive, but that happens when students from other schools taunt them. Fletcher and Jackson noted that at a recent Future Business Leaders of America gathering, a club member received catcalls after introducing herself as a Gibbs High student.
The three didn't deny the school's struggles with the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, but they also see a need to combat the sense of defeat that overwhelms some kids who fail the test.
Improvement can't come when hope is lost.
"They give all that they can and then if they still don't pass, they just think it's not for them," Jackson said. "If they think they have no skills and can't do anything or be anyone, there's nothing you can to do to change their minds."
Fortunately, these three haven't lost hope. They have a palpable hunger to do better for themselves.
I wish them well, but what I really wish is that we could replicate their hunger and give it to every student struggling to erase the stain of failure.
That's all I'm saying.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.