Crushing poverty. Learning English as a second language. Dealing with a debilitating disease. Those are formidable obstacles, the type most kids would use as excuses to fail.
Mervens Val is not like most kids. He uses hardship as motivation, realizing it's made him stronger.
"I think it's actually had a positive impact in my life and I'm almost thankful for all of the difficulties," Mervens said.
Mervens is a senior at Coral Springs High School. At 6-feet 4-inches tall, he strides through the school like he owns the place, driven by the desire to learn.
"Maybe I can find a cure for cancer. Maybe I can do something in that field that would benefit everybody else. So that's my goal right now," Mervens explained.
Mervens stands out among his peers for more than just being tall. They all recognize his brilliance.
"He just gave a presentation last week in our anatomy class and it felt like we were being lectured by a professional," said Josh Gluck, Mervens' friend and classmate. "He's ridiculously intelligent, it's mind-blowing."
Remember the kid in school who everyone would turn to for help with the most difficult classes? At Coral Springs High, that kid is Mervens.
"Any question that anybody has in class, they can really come to him," said classmate Jaisil Jacob.
Mervens is happy to help. That's the type of person he is.
"I have really good friends in this school and they support me. They've supported me since day one, and I do enjoy helping them out whenever I get the chance to do so. I always enjoy it," Mervens said.
Whatever the subject, Mervens excels. He has a 4.7 GPA, he's taking a slew of dual enrollment and AP classes, and he's doing it all while suffering from a bad case of Kyphosis of the spine. It's a painful condition caused by the genetic disorder known as Marfan Syndrome.
"It's extremely painful," Mervens said, explaining that it's a daily battle. "Yes, every single day, especially when I wake up in the morning. It feels like I don't want to go to school but you know, I have to because I love being here."
Mervens said dealing with poverty in his family is even harder than fighting physical pain every day. People at his school have taken him clothes shopping, and one of his mentors has walked him through the maze of the health care system while the school is actively lobbying for scholarships on his behalf. The worst part has been trying to keep up academically without the resources most students take for granted.
"I've always had to try twice as hard as everybody else in school. I remember every single day, I would have to go to the library to get a paper done on time while everybody else usually had Internet at home," Mervens said.
His teachers say Mervens is the ultimate role model.
"He is special in every single way, from his academics to his personal character, everything he does, he makes everyone want to be more like him," said Dr. Tameka King, the assistant principal who has mentored Mervens since he was a freshman.
"I'm very optimistic now because I've been through so much. There's no way that I'm just going to give up now," Mervens said. "I really want to make everyone here proud of me."
There's no doubt he will.
SWAG on 6 (Students Working At Greatness) is a new feature on NBC 6 highlighting students who rise against all odds and continue to succeed.