high school graduation

virtually learning

mind the gap

New York

On road to college, track star leaves troubled past in the dust

As the salutatorian of Boys and Girls High School, Johanna Jimenez will deliver a speech tonight titled "A Race Called LIfe." For her classmates at Boys and Girls High School in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, many of whom have experienced hardships and overcome steep odds on the path to graduation, the title is a metaphor. But Jimenez, a top middle distance runner who is headed to college on a track scholarship, takes the idea literally. “Basically, life is like a race. You set goals, then stay focused and work hard to achieve them,” she said, explaining her speech. Jimenez's life has been less of a marathon than a series of hurdles. She overcame her mother's mental illness, foster homes, and her own insecurity to graduate from high school at the top of her class. There she joins another student-athlete, valedictorian Folashade Frazier, who will attend the University of Michigan. Together, the pair provide glimmers of hope at a school that seems perpetually at risk of closure. Absorbing some of the community's neediest students, Boys & Girls has a poor attendance rate and an even lower graduation rate. Detaching kids from their troubled personal lives is often the first hurdle teachers must clear before they can even begin instruction. Born in Puerto Rico, Jimenez and her older brother, Nathaniel, were given up at an early age by their mother, who suffered from mental illness. She lived in three foster homes and one group home between the ages of 7 and 12.