NEW PORT RICHEY
As a sixth-grader, Ladarious Jackson earned 10 suspensions and a spot in Frank Roder's special class at the Marchman Technical Education Center.
"I had 10 kids,'' Roder recalled. "They were considered the worst of the worst.''
One day, Mike Fasano came to visit. He represented Pasco in the Florida Senate and wanted to gather information about expensive alternative education programs. While talking to Roder, he used the term "throwaway kids.''
Ladarious overheard — and remembered.
Five years later, as a senior at Gulf High School, Ladarious had made a remarkable turnaround. He had learned to control his emotional disability that had haunted him since birth. He had found success in the classroom and as a two-time state wrestling champion. He made an appointment to visit the senator.
Ladarious put on a tie and carried stacks of awards and press clippings about his athletic success. He told Fasano he would graduate and go to college.
The senator was impressed.
"He was a perfect example of how a young man can turn himself around,'' Fasano said.
He promised to be there when Ladarious graduated.
Two Fridays ago, Ladarious Jackson walked across the stage at the Calvary Chapel Worship Center. He accepted his diploma and made his way down the receiving line. There he found the senator. Their eyes locked. They gripped hands.
"He was right, I was a throwaway kid,'' said Ladarious, whose mother was in prison when she gave birth to him 19 years ago. "I wanted to show him how far I had come. I'm proud of that.''
— Bill Stevens, Pasco Times editor