HOLIDAY — Daniel DeGraca could have made plenty of excuses.
He spent his formative years in foster care. His mother died of alcohol poisoning when he was 8. He has no connection to his father.
Instead of shirking his education and life's responsibilities, though, DeGraca developed an iron will to succeed. He scored an impressive 30 on the ACT and 1230 on the SAT. He earned a 3.85 grade point average. He will graduate Saturday from Anclote High School and he's poised for college.
"A lot of bad things have happened to me. But I look at it as I learned what to avoid in life," said DeGraca, 18. "I want to challenge myself and I want to provide for my family."
After the death of his mother, DeGraca and his younger brother, found themselves in the foster care system, living at the Harbinger House group home in New Port Richey. DeGraca attended Gulf Middle School and Gulf High School, mostly keeping his past and his living conditions to himself. Whenever he was invited to a friend's birthday party, he would accept, but then not show up.
"I had no way to get there other than by someone from the Harbinger House. So I didn't want people to see I was being dropped off by people that obviously were not my parents and then get asked questions," DeGraca said.
At 14, DeGraca, as well as his brother and sister, were placed together in a permanent foster home in Holiday, where he was zoned to attend Anclote High. By his senior year, he really hit his stride. He got an A this year in AP calculus.
"You always hear about the senior slump," he said. "Well, I made up my mind not to let that apply to me."
Anclote career specialist Glenn Anderson can attest to that. He said DeGraca has taken charge of his future.
"He knew what he wanted, but he didn't know how to get there. Once we gave him the tools, he ran with the ball on a lot of things," said Anderson. "I've been impressed with him from day one. It's an uphill battle for a lot of these kids, so it's impressive to watch."
Many of DeGraca's peers have had an easier road in life and take their education for granted. DeGraca doesn't.
"It's sad to see sometimes. I've know a lot of people who are very smart or great athletes, but they do nothing with it because they are lazy," DeGraca said.
DeGraca has learned to rely on himself, so he watches every penny. He rides his bike to get to his job at Sam's Club, and he saves his earnings. He knows down to the dollar how much he has in his bank account.
DeGraca hadn't planned to walk at graduation because he didn't want to pay about $80 for the cap and gown. The administrators at Anclote weren't going to let him miss his big walk across the stage on Saturday. They dipped into a fund for lower-income students to pay for DeGraca's cap and gown.
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After graduation, DeGraca plans to move to Gainesville to attend Santa Fe College, then will transfer to the University of Florida to study engineering.
He has qualified for Bright Futures and has a tuition waiver due to his time in foster care, so why not take a shot at UF right off the bat?
"It will be cheaper to go to Santa Fe," DeGraca said, grinning.