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  1. Opinion

Hooper: Let's help our young scholars rise above life's pitfalls

Tampa's Charis M. Lee, third from the right in the front row, was one of 34 African-American women to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy. It was the largest number of African American female graduates in West Point history. Photo courtesy of Hallie Pound.
Published May 27

On Saturday, Tampa's Charis M. Lee helped form the largest class of African-American women to ever graduate from West Point.

A photo of the historic group went viral in recent weeks. Lee, a graduate of the Hillsborough High International Baccalaureate program, will start her career as an officer and a role model for young women who want to follow her path.

However, if you ask Lee about the photo, she will tell you she wishes there was a photo of the army of people who helped her and her fellow cadets reach such a lofty status.

Those words remind us during this "graduation season" that family, friends and community buoy every student who walks across a stage and turns a tassel.

Over the last few weeks, I saw such support emerge at a moving tribute to Take Stock In Children seniors, a Moffitt Healthy Kidz Scholars presentation and Bob Gries' Heart of a Champion celebrations.

It's easy to draw inspiration from the stories of such students as Robert Hurley, who rose from foster care to earn the honor of valedictorian at Boca Ciega High School. Carrollwood Day's N'Jhari Jackson drew accolades at multiple events, a feat made remarkable by the fact he's battling an autoimmune disorder.

Durant High's Kolton Smith suffered paralysis after a car accident, but last week he rose from his wheelchair and walked across the stage to get his diploma.

We gain from such stories of perseverance, but what do we give? Each of us need to ask how we, in ways both big and small, can be the wind beneath the wings of such amazing students or really, any young person who chooses to infuse their future with hope and promise.

That's all I'm saying.

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