Operation Graduation: How one student excelled with odds stacked against him

Published: Apr. 29, 2015 at 11:30 PM CDT|Updated: Apr. 30, 2015 at 2:43 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - Some high school seniors struggle on their journey toward getting a diploma. Many beat incredible odds.

Jairron Isaac of New Orleans is one of them.

As graduation day nears, he's one of the seniors at Cohen College Prep, who's not slowing down. Isaac has big plans for the future.

"I want to be a pharmacist or a businessman in the finance world," Isaac says.

But the principal says for many students like Isaac, it hasn't always been a clear-cut path.

"So sometimes it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel with ninth-graders," says Rahel Wondwossen. "But it's amazing to see them as seniors and see how much growth they've had."

By most standards, the odds were against Isaac early on in life. When he was just a toddler, his mother went to prison for two years. His dad was incarcerated for six. He even wrote about it in a college application essay.

"In life you have two choices, to be defeated or a conquer. I choose to conquer," Isaac says. "My mother and father are incarcerated in a federal penitentiary for drug dealing and money laundering."

Grandparents raised Isaac and his older sister.

But a situation that could have easily derailed his life, had the opposite effect.

Isaac says, "I think it's very essential to who I've become, seeing that I don't want to grow up struggling. I don't want to have to sell drugs and end up in jail. I want to do it the right way, the clean way. I want to be successful, inspire other young black men who've faced similar situations."

"He struggled a lot in his first year, behaviorally, academically. He had a lot going on at home," Wondwossen says. "Today, Jairron is so polished, so considerate, works incredibly hard and has so many options in front of him."

For a student who failed seventh grade and almost didn't pass tenth, college seemed like an unattainable dream. He says he hit a turning point as he started his junior year.

"I'm like, I have to do something," Isaac says. "I told myself Jairron, if you want to be successful in life, nobody's going to hand it to you on a silver platter. You have to go out and get it."

He did just that. He takes advanced placement classes and spends half of every school day at Bard Early College Center in New Orleans. As a result of his hard work, Isaac has been accepted to six universities: Morehouse, Howard, Milsaps, Xavier, Birmingham Southern and Jackson State.

Cohen's principal calls him a perfect example of what the New Orleans College Prep program can do for kids who are determined to beat the odds.

"You have a choice once you're here. If you take advantage of what we have here for you, we really believe doors will open up and he is an example of that," Wondwossen says.

With graduation now in sight, Isaac agrees and says he's now looking forward, not only to college, but beyond.

"I just want a wife, kids, a nice home, just happiness," says Isaac.

Isaac graduates May 28. He hasn't decided yet where he's going to college. He has already taken four college courses at Bard, so he already has a semester of college under his belt.

Isaac says Morehouse College is his dream school and his top choice right now, but he still must figure out how to pay for it.

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