Just when all seems dire, along comes an uplifting story of someone who could have easily descended into the all-too-common, woe-is-me victimization pit but did not. In the fifth grade, Gavin Arneson made a life-affirming decision. “I’m not going to be a statistic,” he promised himself. And with that, his journey began.
On Saturday, Gavin will graduate from Clear Creek High School as the Class of 2017 Valedictorian. Along the way, he served as President of the National Honor Society and Student Council President and founded the first Colorado high school chapter of She’s the First, a nonprofit that provides scholarships to girls in low-income countries while working two jobs to support himself and his disabled father and twice enduring homelessness.
For his steadfast dedication to excel, the NHS awarded Gavin with a $20,000 scholarship from a field of 26,000, and New York University endowed him with a four-year, full-tuition scholarship. That’s his resume to date. One wonders what it will read in a decade or two.
Gavin deserves every plaudit accorded him, a story that has graced the front pages of the Courant and Denver Post. His story, though, invokes those of others—survivors of abuse, neglect, and poverty; Dreamers; refugees from war-torn lands; immigrants in search of a better life—that tell heroic tales of survival and success.
Like Gavin, they are the ones who, despite endless knock-down pitches, inexorably get up, dust themselves off, and take another swing. They don’t sink into victimhood, blaming their plight and misfortunes on anybody or anything to help them redirect personal responsibility and ownership, and then compensate for their life challenges by acting out with reprehensible behaviors. They are the ones who believe in a better tomorrow and act to make it happen. The difference between nobility and baseness. The very human epic hero with all the weaknesses and distractions everyone has but never gives up. Never, ever.
After his father’s death last December, Gavin again found himself homeless due to being evicted from the apartment they had shared. At that point, he says he felt a sense of “displacement,” but “didn’t stew over ‘I am alone. I am so sad.’” Rather, he looked life in the eye and took measure of the enormity of that which lay before him.
“Where do I go? What do I do?” he pondered. “I am an adult now.”
But it didn’t take long to arrive at his answer: School.
“Education,” says Gavin, “is the most powerful weapon or tool you can use to change the world.”
Music to a teacher’s ears. “Yes!” I yelled when I heard Gavin’s words.
While it is the heroes we recognize and celebrate, they intuitively know they could not have done it alone. Gavin realizes that and takes time to honor those who were there for and with him along the way, specifically the Clear Creek High School teachers and staff. “Clear Creek is the epitome of ‘it takes a village’,” he said. CCHS, a community of caring educators focused on the betterment of every one of its charges through its mission: Education.
Gavin, though, didn’t learn only concepts and skills via his formal education; he learned life lessons. Looking back at his experience to date, he understands the reason he had to undergo those not-so-pleasant experiences.
“Oh, so that is why that happened to me,” he reflected. “If that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be here now. If I didn’t live in a homeless shelter, I would not have this level of dedication to education. That makes sense now.”
At age 18, he’s already attained the insight that many never arrive at. Wise beyond his years.
His advice: “Whatever you’re going through, just keep going through it.”
Thank you, Gavin, for being a most positive role model not only for your peers and younger ones looking up to you but also for adults. You have done honor for yourself by keeping focused on your goal and by not allowing one speed bump after another to deter you. You have reminded the rest of us what courage in the face of adversity is. No whining. No scapegoating. No pity party. Just action.
Gavin’s story continues.
Live long and prosper, Gavin.