High school graduates profiled
By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on May 29, 2005 2:02 AM
During her four years at Charles B. Aycock High School, Patricia Owen, like many athletes, found ways to push herself past pain to reach her goals.
A top-ranked tennis player and also an accomplished piano player, she ranked fifth in her graduating class academically and received the EC Scholars Academic Merit Scholarship to attend East Carolina University.
All the while, she battled chronic migraine headaches.
The headaches started in elementary school, she said, adding that she thought she would eventually grow out of the pain. But she didn't. The headaches grew more intense by the time she entered middle school, and she sought medical treatment.
In the ninth grade, the pain became so severe once that it lasted for seven straight months.
"I would wake up with it, went to bed with it," she said.
Unable to eat and on medication, her weight dropped to 80 pounds.
"There were rumors I was anorexic," she said.
But despite the pain, she never let up, studying, practicing and trying to live as normal a life as possible.
"I couldn't go home every day and lie down in a dark room," she said. "I continued to go to school, to make good grades, but at the same time, I was basically suffering."
The pain was something she tried to keep to herself. Sympathy was not one of her goals.
"I didn't want to draw attention to myself," she said. "If I wanted attention, it's not for that."
She said she has tried every migraine medicine on the market without much success. She takes four pills nightly as a preventive measure, but still averages three migraines a week.
But she said she will not let the headaches stop her now.
"I have to be thankful that I have them, because I can take it," she says. "I can still continue with life."
Owen said she is considering minoring in music and would perhaps like to become a piano teacher or even a concert pianist.
"It relieves my stress," she said. "I can pour all my emotions into it and put all my efforts into it, as I did in tennis."
No matter what she decides to do, she said she feels a strong connection with children and finds enjoyment in coming up with creative ways to motivate younger children to learn.
"If I don't do teaching, I will probably do child psychology," she said.
The daughter of Douglas and Linda Owen of Saulston said she is looking forward to her new life at college and the possibilities that are now before her.
"I think college will help me focus on what I want to do," Owen said. "I hope to meet a lot of new, different people, and get involved in a lot of things that we don't have in Pikeville, N.C."
Jie Sun's parents wanted their only child to have a good future, so they arranged for her to complete her high school education in America.
She and mother, Yuexia Ye, moved to Wayne County from China two years ago. On Friday night, Jie graduated from Eastern Wayne High School.
She said she has learned English by talking with others, asking teachers questions. Her mother still doesn't speak any English.
"Sometimes the teachers say things very fast," she said. "So after school, I always come to ask them to borrow their paper to write down things."
She balances two cultures, learning about American ways while holding onto many Chinese traditions.
"In China, always we like to live with the father and mother," she said. "Before I come here, I lived with them and grandmother and grandfather."
Parents of a boy typically live with the son's family, she said, so her father's parents lived with them.
Early on, she said, her family had talked about her coming to this country "because I think the American education is very good, is the best in the world."
In China, she said, it is not uncommon for youths to attend schools elsewhere.
"I went to a private school," she said. "People always talk about going to other countries for education because the schools outside are better for us."
A lot of her friends did the same thing, she said, often choosing to go to school in England, New Zealand, Canada or the U.S.
While she and her mother made the trip to America, her father, Ye Sun, remained in China, where he has a business. Jie said she last saw him at Christmas and because of the 20-hour flight, will not see him again until after graduation.
She said she is interested in studying accounting and will attend Washington State University in the fall, again accompanied by her mother. Her father has friends in both San Francisco and Washington, but she preferred the latter because she likes the countryside and said "people are like here."
"I like here because the people have been good to me, always smile," she said.
She is uncertain if she will remain in the U.S. after college or go back to China, but said her mother will likely return to China once her education is complete.
Jie said she is pleased with the education she received at Eastern Wayne, where she made good grades and many friends. While a student at Eastern Wayne, she belonged to the Future Business Leaders of America, National Honor Society and the Foreign Language Club.
She said her parents have been very supportive while she has studied.
"In all my family, no one goes outside (the country), just me," she said. "When they talk about me in front of their friends, they are very proud."
For someone born without knees, Jesse Alexander has not only managed to maneuver through the hallways at Southern Wayne High School but also on the dance floor at his senior prom.
Alexander was diagnosed with femoral hypoplasia with multiple congenital abnormalities and has been in a wheelchair since kindergarten. Counselors at his high school say he did not want special treatment and made a place for himself because of an attitude that compensated for any physical limitations.
Earlier this month, he was among students at the school recognized as a "VIP" and earned the Terry McPherson Award. He said he was surprised by the honor and deeply appreciated all the congratulations he received.
He said he liked attending classes, with his favorite subject being English. He is also a member of the Future Farmers of America and lists hanging out with friends, playing video games, watching movies and riding four-wheelers among his other interests.
Alexander likes to draw and has been accepted to Wayne Community College, aided by services from Vocational Rehabilitation. He said he would like to eventually become an architect.
"I got interested in that probably after I took an art class," he said. "I like building stuff."
Alexander said he does most things for himself, but occasionally needs help. Going upstairs, for example, can be a challenge.
"Right now, first period is upstairs," he said a few days before graduation. "Someone takes up the wheelchair and books, and I walk."
He likens his effort to a crawl, walking upstairs mostly on his hands. His counselors said he has an astounding upper body strength and, in the ninth grade, could do more than 100 pushups without stopping.
Born in Wayne County, Alexander lived in Nebraska and Warsaw before he and his mother, Alice Adams, moved to the Mar-Mac community, and he started school at Southern Wayne.
He said he finds most people to be sensitive and helpful, with questions occasionally posed about his condition.
"It don't really bother me," he said. "They're usually kind of surprised, and then understanding."
Although most people think he's shy, Alexander said that isn't the case once they get to know him.
"I think I'm a nice person," he said. "I get along pretty much with everybody."
He attributes his attitude to being around his friends and his mother, whom he also credits with being his inspiration.
'They tell me I can still do stuff," he said. "I do stuff that everybody else does, but in a different way."
Goldsboro High School graduate Tammy Moody said she missed out on a lot of things she had expected to do her senior year, but is choosing to concentrate on the brighter side of life, on the things she can accomplish.
Until last year, the Goldsboro High School graduate led a very active life -- marching band, basketball player, singing and playing keyboard at her church.
She planned to continue with basketball her senior year, until she was struck by what doctors first thought was a stomach virus. Tests showed it to be Crohn's disease, which causes inflammation in the lower part of the small intestine.
"It weakens you. You have to deal with different medications," she said. "Medications are the worst thing because of the side effects. Some days you wake up, feel OK, and the next day, you feel worse than the day before. Sometimes it's hard. I have had it where I couldn't walk because of the pain."
While symptoms don't occur daily, flare-ups bring pain that leads to infections and inflamed joints. Twice, her weight dropped dramatically. Once, she lost 40 pounds in five weeks.
As a result of the disease, she missed a lot of classes. She was homebound from October until December, and was out again since Easter. County school officials worked with her family, finding ways to help her keep pace with her classmates and graduate with them on Friday night.
She has had to make frequent trips to Wilson to see doctors there, and continues to perform physical therapy to strengthen her arms.
She is still on a lot of medications, she said, and knows there is one that she will likely take for the rest of her life. But she said she remains optimistic that she can beat the disease.
The daughter of James and Sadie Moody credits her parents with helping her make it through the difficult times.
"It has been stressful on my parents, especially financially," she says. "But they always find a way.
"I think with the encouragement of my parents and the prayers of my parents, as well as my prayers, it keeps me going every day."
Despite not being able to walk the halls at school every day and see her friends as much as she would like, she said they have stayed in touch and that she has felt their support all year.
Living with a disease presents challenges, but Ms. Moody said she tries hard not to let it run her life.
"As long as you don't let the illness take over your life, I think you can survive with this," she said. "The sickness doesn't make a person who they are."
Her faith is also good medicine.
"I ask God for patience because when I got this disease, I didn't have patience," she said. "Once you have a sickness, you have to research it. The more you learn, the more you can handle it."
As a result of her illness, her original plan to become a music instructor has changed. She now hopes to become a doctor some day. Maybe even research the very disease that stole so much of her time. She will attend UNC-Greensboro in the fall.
"I know how it is to be sick, and I want to help someone else get through what I have been through," she said, hinting that she might even want to specialize in the very disease she has.
Rosewood High School twins James and Jeremy Ruesch expect to be men on a mission next year. The Mormon youths plan to make the two-year commitment that has become a tradition in both their family and their faith.
"It's what my parents believed and have been taught, what I believe," James said. "All worthy young men that reach the age of 19 and are able to serve a full-time mission, it's something we're supposed to do. I don't have to go, but I should go."
The boys moved to Wayne County three years ago with their military family. They said that being twins worked to their advantage when it came to sharing their faith with others.
"It hasn't been an issue," Jeremy said. "Pretty much everyone at Rosewood, they know we're members of the Latter Day Saints, and they know that there's some big difference between what they believe."
James said he has enjoyed being asked questions and given the opportunity to share his faith with others. The experience will come in handy when he takes his faith on the road, he said.
The two said they have had no problems with the "twin thing," as they called it. They admitted they enjoy doing the same things, eating the same foods, participating in the same sports -- football and track -- and taking all the same high school classes.
"Not only are we twins and have the same interests," Jeremy said, "but every single time we move, it draws us closer. He's been the person that I do know and he's always the guy I can lean on and have something in common with."
That closeness will likely suffer some next year, however. Jeremy said the chance that they will be assigned to the same place is slim.
"That's been the biggest issue, the biggest sacrifice, because James and I have never been apart for any length of time, ever," he said.
There will be other sacrifices as well. Every day on mission is planned, they said, from rising at 6:30 a.m. until lights out at 10 p.m. Watching TV isn't permitted, and they can only read Scripture and gospel literature.
"You're going to work and serve," James said. "You're there to teach people about the Latter Day Saints and spread the gospel."
The separation will be made more difficult by the fact that only two phone calls are allowed to family during the year, although letters are permitted.
"My penmanship is going to have to improve a little bit," Jeremy said, smiling.
Speaking more seriously, the brothers said they have always expected to fulfill their mission obligation before going on to college.
"You don't graduate high school and say, 'I think I'm going to go on a mission,'" Jeremy said. "It's a choice you have to make when you're younger."
And since there is no pay involved, they had to start saving toward it early on.
"We practice the law of tithing," James explains, "with 10 percent of all our increase going to the church.
"Every time I'd earn money, 10 percent would go to the church, with some going to savings and some to mission savings."
Their father, Gary, one of nine children, served on a mission, as did all of his brothers and some of his sisters, James said. The two years will be tough, he said, but he expects to emerge a stronger person.
"It's always looked at as a great experience," James said. "I'm going to come back better."
He said his goals are to go to college and play football, but all that could change. Two years is a long time. Priorities could change.
"Who knows how we're going to be influenced while on the mission?" he said. "I love football, but eternal perspectives are different."
Although their time together might soon be limited, the brothers said they have no doubt about maintaining the closeness that has always been a part of their lives. They said they have talked at length about eventually trying to live near one another.
Ricardo Lugo said he is the type of person who likes to make people happy. So even when he was diagnosed with a brain tumor, he continued to try to keep everyone else's spirits up.
Lugo, who graduated from Spring Creek High School on Saturday, started out his senior year so dizzy at times he said, he could hardly stand up. It took a while for doctors to diagnose the cause.
"At first, they thought I had an iron deficiency, then diabetes, then gastritis was suggested," he said. An endoscopy confirmed gastritis, later found to have been triggered by the growing tumor that contributed to his problems eating.
"I went back home, started eating, but I never left my bed because I'd get dizzy and sick," at times unable to even walk, he said.
Tests revealed a tumor the size of a golf ball. Lugo underwent surgery in December and had to undergo physical therapy for two months. The experience put life in a new perspective, he said.
"It kind of humbled me to make me realize, you know how young people think they're immortal?" he said. "It made me realize that life is a fragile thing."
Although the tumor was benign, it was nevertheless a concern at the outset. Lugo said when the doctor told his mother first and she left the room crying, he knew it was serious.
Still, he determined not to get depressed and instead, looked to support his mother.
"Every time she was around me, I was always smiling. I was always holding her hand," he said. "I always tried to stay upbeat."
Maria Delvalle and her son moved to Wayne County from Florida three years ago when a job opportunity arose.
"She's done so much for me," he said. "I guess I took the bigger man part -- instead of her being strong for me, I was strong for her.
"That gave me the strength to go through what I had to go through."
Lugo had also started a job two months before getting sick, but said it's unlikely he will return because he can no longer do strenuous work. He admitted that he has worried a lot about the financial strain his medical problems have placed on his family.
"I just have to be more cautious in my actions, be very careful with my neck and head," he said.
He also can't do one of his favorite things, ride on roller coasters.
Although doctors have offered no cause for the brain tumor, Lugo said he learned that it had been developing for more than a year before it became serious.
Despite how sick he was, he said he is just glad doctors determined the cause of his health problems as early as they did.
The experience has also affected his religious views, he said.
"Before, I had questioned it a lot," he said. "I moved here with my mom, and it just seems to be so much, a coincidence that I have it here and I get one of the best doctors. Everything is working good for me right now; that made me think about it really hard.
"I think I believe more now than I did before. It has humbled me."
Lugo said he wants to continue his education and had hoped to start taking classes at Wayne Community College in the fall but because of financial constraints, he might have to put that on hold for now.
His dream, he said, is to get a doctorate in psychology and work in either psychiatry or criminology. Having written poetry and short stories, he said he might also like to one day write books.
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