Adlene Philogene is the kid who gets along with everyone at Cutler Bay High School, leading by example in the classroom and in numerous clubs and activities.
"This is a young woman that has overcome so much but yet every day when you see her she has a smile on her face," said assistant principal Michelle Clarit.
Adlene is a college-bound senior. Her teachers say she’s an excellent student. She’s also a survivor.
"Amazing how far I've come," Adlene said. "This all seems like a dream to me at times."
Adlene nearly died in the calamitous earthquake that destroyed much of Haiti in 2010. Her younger sister didn't make it, dying under a pile of rubble. Someone carried Adlene to a field hospital, and she was later airlifted to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. She was 12 years old, alone in a strange place, with a cracked skull and numerous broken bones, and she was in a coma.
Adlene spent four months at Jackson Memorial Hospital recovering.
"It was very hard, I was crying every day," Adlene says now, looking back on the traumatic experience. She resolved to learn English and push herself forward. Living in foster care, with no family in South Florida, Adlene willed herself to succeed in school.
"We are so proud of her, so proud of everything she’s accomplished, even with all that she still had the motivation to keep moving forward and better herself," said Amelia Diaz, the school counselor who has known Adlene since the seventh grade.
Adlene had a built-in excuse for failure. She chose to use her experience as a catapult instead of a crutch.
"You've been severely injured, you're unable to speak English, you now have to learn English, I mean she had everything stacked against her and she could've just sunk into the cracks and said, 'Oh well,' but she chose not to do that," Clarit said.
"I feel like I can overcome anything, I mean look what I have gone through," Adlene said. "No one should ever give up on their dream."
Her dream is to climb from foster care to medical school, a dream powered every day by a desire to help her two brothers and sister who are still mired in poverty in Haiti.
"I want to be a neurologist and I want to join Doctors Without Borders to go to third world countries and help out the less fortunate kids," Adlene said. "I definitely know what it's like."
She may have learned English, but Adlene doesn't know the meaning of the word, "quit." She realizes she's fortunate to be here in the United States.
"I just feel really blessed. I'm very thankful," Adlene said.
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.