Two High School Grads Reflect on Past Obstacles During Graduation

Odalys Villanueva spent a week in prison for attempting to enter the U.S. before authorities sent her back to Honduras. Cancer left Miriam Marlow partially blind. Nonetheless, both overcame adversity to be among the 150 students who graduated from Booker T. Washington High School on Thursday morning.

For Marlow, the formal celebration came after she was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, a type that is “diagnosed at a younger age than most other adult cancers,” according to the American Cancer Society. She first learned she had cancer, which has resulted in limited vision, when she was in eighth grade.

Marlow missed multiple school days and also started to suffer from poor vision. It was determined that she had “severe” glaucoma, she said.

Still, Marlow was able to maintain a 3.6 GPA, she told NBC 6, and has plans to attend Florida Memorial University in Miami Gardens.

For Villanueva, the school’s SGA president and valedictorian, the circumstances were different. When she was 5 years old, Villanueva and her aunt were arrested in Mexico while trying to reach the U.S. from Honduras.

After seven days in jail, she and her aunt were sent back to Honduras. Two years later, though, Villanueva reached the U.S. She enrolled at Booker T. Washington as an ESOL student and concluded her high school career with a 4.5 GPA, she told NBC 6. Villanueva plans to attend Florida International University.

Villanueva and Marlow’s abilities to overcome obstacles were on display at the Adrienne Arsht Center on Thursday.

For Villanueva, her family’s influence made the accomplishment even more significant.

“I was just trying to get where my parents wanted me to be,” Villanueva said.

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