Waterloo student turns the corner, makes it to the graduation st - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Waterloo student turns the corner, makes it to the graduation stage

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Tyriq O'Neal plans to go to Hawkeye Community College in August, and hopes to one day practice in the medical field.

The goal of graduating high school, though, felt very out of reach for O'Neal at one point.

"The day I thought about dropping out, I sat there at my table staring at my computer, just thinking like can I really do this." 

O'Neal spent many days at Waterloo West High School. Before going to West, he was held back a year and went to Expo Alternative Learning Center. It was at that point, when he started falling behind on school work.

"I would always have that hanging over my head, like oh you stayed in school for an extra year."

Gloria O'Neal, Tyriq's grandmother, is his legal guardian.

"That's where his problems really began, with acting out.  It's been a struggle since then to get him to where he's at now."

The Waterloo Community School District's four-year graduation rate last school year was 77.4 percent; one of the lowest in the state. O'Neal said he's seen many students drop out of school.

"And that's actually the reason why I ended up staying in school. Seeing how a lot of people live after the fact that they dropped out of high school... struggling to find jobs, struggling to keep jobs," O'Neal said.

Counselor Marsha Watters has seen what O'Neal has overcome to graduate.

"Sometimes having friends that maybe aren't making all the same choices that you want to make."

Gloria said, like most kids, her grandson may not have listened to what she said, but he heard what she said.

"I am jumping for joy on the inside when he said I'm going to continue on, like, yay yay yay!"

O'Neal said it took a lot of focus and determination to make it this far.

"It's a symbol that I worked extremely hard for what I have... life has struggles all throughout it, but you have to struggle to be successful." 

Tyriq was a part of the Harbaugh-Williams Education Promise Fund since his elementary years, and will get two years of college tuition paid for through the Promise Fund.

Gloria would like to thank a number of people, and organizations, for helping Tyriq reach the milestone of graduation: Lynn Niell, Social Worker at Dr. Walter Cunningham School for Excellence, Elizabeth Crowley, Tyriq's Cunningham principal, Dennis Harbaugh and Juanita Williams, R.J. McElroy Foundation, and Anthony Ross, a fellow student who helped encourage Tyriq to stay in school. 

Waterloo Superintendent Jane Lindaman says, when a student drops out, the average cost to society is $292,000. Several factors contribute to that statistic; dropouts earn less in income, so they are paying less in taxes. Dropouts also use social programs, like food stamps, and many end up in jail, which is another cost to taxpayers.  

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