The Lake Highlands High School senior class is full of students with good grades and great attitudes. With our community support, high academic standards and parental involvement, Lake Highlands does all it can to help its students succeed.

But the bumpy ride through high school isn’t the same for every student. Some face problems and challenges that most students never dream about. Here are the stories of three graduating seniors who overcame those obstacles.

ASHANTI WILLIAMS

Ashanti Williams seems the epitome of the well-rounded student. She maintains an A average, is involved in extracurricular activities, works part-time and interns three days a week. And she still makes time for community service.

Williams credits her success primarily to her strong family. Her dad died when she was 8, and Williams was raised by her mom, Marnita, with help from her grandmother and aunt, who lived across the street for much of her childhood.

“The three of them made such a great contribution to my life,” she says. “It would have been nice to have my father there, but they provided so much love. I know many kids even with two parents who aren’t as blessed.”

Williams says her mom taught her the rewards of volunteering.

“For years, mom has volunteered every Saturday at Hope Cottage,” she says, “and I join her at least twice a month. It’s tough with my schedule, but it’s our time to spend together.”

What keeps her schedule so full? First there’s her internship at the Cooper Institute, where she deals with exercise and health-related studies. Then there’s her part-time job at the Lake Highlands YMCA, where she works evenings and weekends.

At school, she’s the senior class president, a student council member and an officer in the National Honor Society. She’s also a member of the Girls Service League and AIMS (Association for Improving Minority Skills).

Williams has been accepted at Texas Christian University, where she’ll pursue a health and fitness-related degree. She has applied for more than 13 scholarships to help pay for it.

“I told my mom I would go somewhere else, because I knew we couldn’t afford it,” she says. “But we both just fell in love with it, so we decided we’ll make it work. I know it’s where I belong.”

JAE PARK

Jae Park moved to Lake Highlands from Korea when he was in the sixth grade. Like the rest of this family, Park spoke no English when he arrived.

His first year at school was difficult.

“Not being able to express what I was thinking was very hard,” he says. “It didn’t matter what I knew or was thinking, because I couldn’t express it.”

Park says he understood very little of what he heard in class. His favorite subjects were math and band, because he could understand the notes and symbols.

He began private flute lessons with Claire Johnson, who he says eventually became his mentor.

“She’s had the biggest influence on how I see things,” he says. “My high school teachers gave me knowledge, but she shaped how I think.”

As Park continued to improve his English and adapt to a new life, things began to improve.

“I decided I really wanted to learn for its own sake, not just for the grades,” he says. He also made some “really cool friends,” so he no longer felt isolated at school.

Today Park ranks 35th in his class, with physics being his favorite subject. A member of the AP physics class and the recipient of a research internship at the University of Texas at Dallas, he hopes to attend Cal Tech before beginning a career in research.

DANIA ARAGON

Dania Aragon also came to Lake Highlands speaking hardly a word of English. She, her sister and brother and their mom moved here three years ago from Mexico. They came to join her dad Felipe, who had been working in Dallas for several years.

“It was a very big change,” Aragon says, “but I was happy to move here, so our family could all be together again.”

Upon starting school, Aragon says it took at least a year and a half before she could communicate well with the people around her.

Even so, she became involved at her new school, joining Young Life, the Exchange Club for students, the Girls Service League and Mu Alpha Theta, the math honor society. And she has served as co-president of the Hispanic Pride Club for the past two years. All that’s in addition to working approximately 10 hours a week with her dad’s business.

This year she’ll complete her third year at LHHS, although she came to the school as a junior. She repeated a year, but it wasn’t because her grades were poor. In fact, she has a 94 percent average.

Aragon chose to stay in high school an extra year to ensure she would be well prepared for college. Obviously, that decision paid off. She recently was accepted at Texas A&M University, where she will study computer engineering.