Standout Grads Honored for Resilience

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Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott recognized the winners of the Remarkable Achievement Awards Monday evening, an honor given to students who have overcome significant challenges to complete high school and make the leap to college.

Demetrius Johnson was one of the honorees. A senior at Freedom Academy High School in Brooklyn, Johnson said he decided while sitting in a juvenile detention facility at age 16 that he "was going to turn things around.

"I said to myself, 'If you don't pull yourself together, you're going to be either dead or in jail,'" said Demetrius in a press release about the awards from the Department of Education.

Demetrius moved between a total of 25 foster homes in his life. When he was six years old he was adopted but was returned to foster care seven years later. He credits the staff at Freedom Academy, a transfer school, with helping him care about school. He is headed to SUNY-Jefferson in the fall.

The honorees attended a reception at the D.O.E.'s central offices on Monday evening. It was the seventh year of the annual award that emphasizes resilience and hard work.

Octavia Thompson is headed to Hofstra University from Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. During her junior year, she was stricken with a rare disease that put her in a coma for more than a month and forced her to relearn how to breathe, walk and eat. She credits her drama teacher and the school's alumni network with helping her recover and catch up on school work.

Nikki Jalloh watched as her family was killed in Sierra Leone when she was seven. She moved to New York to live with a family friend, working the late shift at a fast-food restaurant six days a week while attending Robert F. Kennedy Community High School in Queens. She plans to attend Virginia Union University.

The city honored 178 students in total.