Scholarship winners kept going when life was an uphill battle

  • Updated: February 25, 2008 - 12:37 AM

Four high school students overcame tough, even tragic, circumstances and are now on the way to college.

One lost a mother figure in the Interstate 35W bridge collapse. One lost a father to murder and a mother to prison. One struggled with English and epilepsy. One ran from an abusive family to the streets.¶ Yet these four high school students are now headed to college on scholarships from the Children's Defense Fund Minnesota. On Sunday they were named the 2008 "Beat the Odds" honorees. They will get scholarships of at least $4,000 and will be honored at Tuesday's annual dinner. ¶ These excerpts from their biographies show what odds they beat.

Fadumo Hassan Edison, Minneapolis

When the 35W bridge fell into the Mississippi River last summer, Fadumo Hassan's own support system collapsed with it. Her aunt Sadiya Sahal, "a second mother" to Fadumo, was killed, along with Sahal's 2-year-old child.

Fadumo was 8 years old when her mother died in Somalia. Her father brought her and her four younger brothers to Minnesota, but then abandoned the family.

Fadumo found solace and a mother figure in her aunt, who urged her to be the first person in the family to complete high school and go to college. When the bridge collapsed, Fadumo rededicated herself to that goal. She earned 16 credits at the University of Minnesota through the state's Post-Secondary Options program. She plans to study dentistry.

Maipacher Her Harding High, St. Paul

Six years ago, Maipacher Her had to confront the death of her father, the imprisonment of her mother, and the shame. Her mother, angry and depressed over her husband's affair with another woman, stabbed him and then attempted suicide.

Maipacher withdrew and delved into her studies. Finally, in her junior year the pain caught up to her and she broke down. She sought help to deal with her grief and learned to focus less on her schoolwork. Although her grades dropped and she lost her standing as one of the top students in school, she regained the strength to carry on with life.

Today, Maipacher provides leadership in school clubs and volunteers in the community. She plans to major in neuroscience and minor in creative writing.

Maricruz Monreal Johnson High, St. Paul

When Maricruz Monreal and her family emigrated from Mexico to California, they faced language and cultural barriers, and poverty. But her toughest challenge was the epilepsy that brought on frightening and embarrassing seizures without notice.

The disease made it hard for Maricruz to keep friends. But treatment in Mexico helped her condition, and she hopes she has outgrown her seizures.

After watching her parents and older siblings put in grueling 12-hour workdays as farmworkers, she decided she wanted more from life. She wants to become the first in her family to attend college. She plans to study nursing or nutrition.

Justin Haynes McKizzie Washburn, Minneapolis

Justin Haynes McKizzie got early lessons in poverty, violence and homelessness. With an abusive father and a mother addicted to crack, by age 10 he had already lived in numerous shelters, rehab facilities and relatives' homes.

Eventually, he turned to gangs and sold drugs to supplement his family's public assistance. He got into trouble with the law when he severely injured another boy in a gang fight.

Justin's life began to turn around when he found caring foster parents, enrolled at Washburn and met a football coach who mentored him off the field. He helped lead his football team to the state playoffs, participated in track and plans to play college football in Rochester. Justin plans to study carpentry, business and architecture. He wants to build hospitals and places for young people in need.

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