Lost and found

Poor, brown, and inner-city. These Adamson High School kids weren't supposed to make it. They did anyway.

I nodded. No last name necessary. Kimberly says it all.

"She was from Carrollton. Her parents were well-off. We were from completely different backgrounds. We just stared at each other. We had absolutely nothing to say to each other."

Cabrales said that she and Kimberly eventually got along. She told me that much of the challenge of her social experience in the first year had to do with overcoming her own biases.

Lydia Davila invented her own study technique to catch up with the kids who come to UT from privileged backgrounds.
John Anderson
Lydia Davila invented her own study technique to catch up with the kids who come to UT from privileged backgrounds.
I survived Adamson High School: Manuel Herrera
Mark Graham
I survived Adamson High School: Manuel Herrera

"I learned to tolerate," she said. "I learned to accept people who weren't like me."

Her academic challenges were more difficult.

"My very first class on my first day was a history class. It turned out to be in an auditorium. I was shocked. I got there early and sat in the very back row. Then, while I'm sitting there, hundreds of kids walk in, and the auditorium fills up. Then the professor walks in way down there, and he's got a microphone and an overhead projector. He starts talking on and on.

"I remember being in shock. I was speechless. These kids started raising their hands and saying things. These were very bright kids. They made comments and used words I had never even heard of.

"After that class, I was thinking, 'Am I really going to make it? Maybe my parents were right.'

"Every class turned out to be that way. I studied really hard, a lot harder than I thought I would have to. The amount of studying was really something."

She stopped talking and waited for me to ask.

"So?" I asked. "How'd you do?"

Big smile.

"I got a 3.O. Not bad for a kid from Adamson, eh? I did good."

She graduated in four years with a degree in finance. The Adamson Foundation, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, and other benefactors paid all but $8,000 of what it cost her to finish school. She is living in the small house in Oak Cliff where she grew up while she pays off her student loans.

Bank of America, where I met her in the underground plaza, hired her right out of college. She's on a competitive track to become a financial analyst for the bank.

I asked her about Adamson.

"Adamson is a great school to be at, because they have the Adamson Foundation scholarships, and they have teachers who care. There are mentors who are willing to help.

"But I remember coming into my dorm room, and I was mad and upset at Adamson. I wondered why they didn't prepare me better for the university. We could have had some field trips, you know. It wasn't until I went outside the city that I saw how much there is out there."

I asked her this: Of all the kids you went to high school with, given all the hurdles you had to get over, why did you make it?

She thought about that one for a while. "My parents were blue-collar workers, and they left this country thinking they had failed at the American dream. I didn't want that for my family."

Then she looked around again at the people walking by, and her face lit up. "When I was a little girl, my mom used to take me to this store downtown called H.L. Green. We passed by the plaza here, and I saw all these people in business suits with briefcases walking by. And I remember looking at them and thinking, 'That's what I want to be when I grow up.'"

I looked around the plaza, and I suddenly understood why she was so happy. She and I were sitting in the center of Sonia Cabrales' childhood dream come true.

Anthony

The friend who drove Sonia Cabrales to Austin for her first day at UT was Anthony Grimes, also an Adamson graduate in the class of 1994. Grimes was valedictorian. Cabrales was salutatorian. Years before, they had dated. By the time they started college together, they were competitive friends.

Grimes, who is still at UT, received the other of the two four-year scholarships awarded that year by the Adamson Foundation. He and I talked on the phone.

"We lived in an apartment off Davis Street," he said. "I don't know my father. My mom is manic-depressive. Anytime she gets on her feet and gets a good job, then she gets sick and has to go in the hospital, and of course when she gets out, the job is gone.

"I've pretty much always been a good student. In elementary school, I always did well on tests, especially the ITBS. It pleased my mom, and that always made me happy. I just liked the look she would give me."

Before Grimes got to Adamson, he had to deal with some of the worst of what state Rep. Garcia complains about at DISD -- indifferent teachers and advisors who apparently don't care whether a student drops out.

"I took a bunch of honors classes in the 8th grade. When I went to Sunset High School the first day, they told me I had to take all the same classes again that I took in 8th grade. They said I was a freshman, and that's what I had to take. When I said I already took them last year, the counselors said, 'Well, it'll be easy for you this year.' I couldn't see that. The reason I took the classes was to get ahead.

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