A little more than five years ago, Guadalupe Galeno-Hernandez was a south Minneapolis 13-year-old fighting for her life after a gangster’s bullet pierced her neck. Now a budding poet who dreams of teaching elementary schoolchildren, on Tuesday night she joined classmates at their high school graduation.
Guadalupe, who will become the first child in her family to finish high school, joined 405 others from Minneapolis South High School for the graduation ceremony at Mariucci Arena.
Sitting at home before the ceremony, her eyes on the mortarboard and gown still wrapped in plastic that she would soon put on, Guadalupe said she had one feeling above all else: “I’m nervous!”
Big crowds aren’t her thing, she said, but she made a commitment to go to the ceremony for her mother, Hilda, who’s deeply proud of her daughter.
From the first night in the emergency room after Guadalupe was shot until today, the two have faced Guadalupe’s injuries together. They continue to do physical therapy at home, with Hilda working on Guadalupe’s hands and legs. With her mother’s help, Guadalupe can stand.
“She’s blossomed so much through the years,” said special education assistant Talitha Nelson, who has known Guadalupe for four years at South. “She was so shy and timid when she first started. Today she’s so outgoing and such an advocate for herself. She’s so blunt and honest. And I love that.”
Shooting and recovery
On Nov. 12, 2010, Guadalupe walked to the grocery store with her brothers, a sister-in-law and other relatives. They were almost back home to her aunt’s house on the corner of E. 34th Street and Chicago Avenue S. when a car pulled up. A 17-year-old boy stood up through the sunroof and shouted a gang slogan before firing indiscriminately at Guadalupe’s family, whom he mistook for gang members. A person inside the car later told police that they had no idea the boy would shoot at anyone, and were angry at him.
The bullet sliced through Guadalupe’s throat and lodged in her spine. She was paralyzed from the waist down.
Doctors said that she might not survive, and Hilda began round-the-clock vigils at the hospital. Guadalupe slowly recovered. Intensive physical therapy sessions went on for months.
An emergency room doctor at Hennepin County Medical Center told them that Guadalupe would never walk again. At the time, Hilda said that it would be up to God.
Guadalupe’s voice now is quiet, but she can pilot an electric wheelchair and tap out messages on an iPad to friends and others on social media. She said she likes the South staff and students because to them, she’s not “just the girl in the wheelchair.”
“I just feel comfortable. They make me feel like any other girl there.”
She lives less than 10 blocks from the spot where she was standing when she was shot. She sometimes sees friends of the man who shot her. He was arrested within weeks and sent to prison for nearly 13 years.
“Sometimes I do think about him, but not as much; he’s still in jail,” she said.
Guadalupe said she’s no longer afraid to talk about what happened, but sometimes her friends are afraid to ask. They think it would be impolite, but she said it no longer feels weird to explain what happened.
Guadalupe said she found poetry as a freshman at South, and this past year her interest in it grew. She’s known around school for her easygoing smile, but when her feelings take a different turn she uses poetry to sort things out.
“I do have feelings. I do have emotion. I get sad and depressed and stuff, but just for me to take it on is to write it down. I don’t like to talk about it,” she said.
Nelson said she’s seen some of Guadalupe’s poetry, but most of it she keeps to herself. “She’s very sensitive. She’s got, like, a tough girl side to her at the same time. She had to, as much as she’s gone through. She’s still very empathic and very observant,” she said.
But even with difficulties, Guadalupe’s resilient spirit remains the source of admiration. “I just admire her every day, her courage and her smile,” said South High Principal Ray Aponte. “And you know despite all of the challenges that she’s had in particular, she comes to school just smiling and is always pleasant.”
A proud family
Ten family members and friends, including her mother, Guadalupe’s best friend, Jennifer, and her two older brothers Alberto and Jessie, planned to watch her on Tuesday night.
Hilda said that she never doubted Guadalupe would someday finish high school. The reason was simple.
“She likes school,” she said.
Guadalupe hopes to throw a graduation party for herself with friends. After that, she has a low-key summer planned with trips to the Mall of America and her favorite store, Pink, along with a family trip to Chicago to see relatives.
This fall, she’ll be back at South, this time as a “Super Senior” collecting more credits and studying some additional classes she didn’t get to take. Although she has fulfilled all academic requirements for her diploma, she won’t officially receive it until she successfully finishes the “Super Senior” year.
After that, she’d like to go to college to pursue her dream of becoming an elementary schoolteacher.
“I’ve been through a lot,” she said. “To come all this way from where I was at, is just like, yeah, I’ve been through really bad stuff, but now it’s like I’m good.”
Someday, she said, “I’m going to teach kids, because they’re going to learn from me, too.”