Walking across a stage at his high school graduation was a longtime dream for Michael Medina, who at one point could not walk at all.
His mother said Medina was diagnosed with brain cancer at age 11 and, after surgery to remove his tumor, it took him about two years to regain his ability to walk, talk and see. Mary Medina said her son still has physical and cognitive disabilities, but he also remains determined to overcome them, so he earned a diploma from Scarborough High School and was prepared to receive it during a commencement ceremony with his classmates.
That did not happen, though, because the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the last two months of in-person classes this year as well as traditional graduation ceremonies, with Houston ISD holding them virtually instead.
“It kind of sucks,” Michael Medina said.
Fortunately for Medina, the generosity of his community helped make graduation a special occasion nonetheless. The Pine Forest resident is one of 23 area seniors to benefit from an “Adopt-A-Senior” initiative started by Kylie Carrasco, whose son, Alfred, is a recent Waltrip High School graduate who also was part of the program.
The seniors were given gifts and congratulations by individuals or businesses that decided to “adopt” them based on student biographies that were shared by their families in a Facebook group. Medina was sponsored by CookieBossHTX and recently received a gift basket that was delivered to his home by co-owner Cass Gaytan, who gave Medina a plaque, a bath bomb kit, snacks, candy, gift cards to his favorite restaurants and, of course, cookies.
“He was very excited and happy that someone even acknowledged the fact that he was graduating,” Mary Medina said.
Twelve seniors from Waltrip, eight from Heights High School and two from St. Pius X also were adopted as part of the initiative started by Carrasco, whose Facebook group first targeted area families but grew organically to include students from all over the Houston area. A total of 57 seniors were adopted, some by Carrasco and her family.
She encourages others to make similar shows of support for graduating seniors, saying many of their spirits have been broken by the absence of typical rites of passage such as commencement ceremonies, proms and athletic banquets.
“I really wanted just to give these seniors an opportunity to feel special,” Carrasco said. “They missed out on so much.”
Two seniors from Heights and one from Waltrip were adopted by Naro Mak and his business, Hartz Krispy Chicken Buffet on Pinemont Drive, as well as by American Legion Post 560 in Garden Oaks. Mak is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who serves as the 3rd Vice Commander for the local legion post.
One of the Waltrip students adopted by Mak and the legion post, Noah Gonzales, was in the Junior ROTC program and plans to enlist in the military instead of going to college. He also received food and gift cards along with a towel, water bottle, flash drives, a notebook and pens, some of which could come in handy on a base.
Gonzales said the gift-giving program felt like gaining a family member.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “It felt really great to know that people cared about what I want to do.”
The following area high school graduates received gifts and congratulations from individuals or businesses as part of an Adopt-A-Senior initiative started by Waltrip High School parent Kylie Carrasco. Each senior’s sponsor is listed in parentheses:
Cierra Benavides (Lucy Koen)
Alfred Angel Carrasco (Adriana Castorena-Narvaez)
Mathew Ceron (Maritza Gutierrez)
Paul Robert Cruz (Leanne Carrasco)
Anastacia Garcia (Jessica Rocha)
Noah Gonzales (Naro Mak, Hartz Krispy Chicken Buffet & American Legion Post 560)
Jasmine Luna (Melyssa Freeman)
Seema Sibouyeh (Johnny & Rocio Esparza)
Cody Shumate (Nora Marquez)
Sarahi Silva (Arasely Diaz)
Jonathan A. Tamez (Randy Chabolla)
Christopher Williams (Naro Mak, Hartz Krispy Chicken Buffet & American Legion Post 560)
Xanthe Garcia (Freddy Carrasco)
Lukas Gomez (Lucy Hernandez)
Biance Gonzalez (Corina Mendoza)
Beyonce Herrera (Naro Mak, Hartz Krispy Chicken Buffet & American Legion Post 560)
Beatrice Loredo (Kylie Carrasco)
Anthony Moore (Tilly Aluko-Alade)
Mia Ramirez (Norma Rocha)
Martha Sandoval (Yovana Velasquez)
Michael Medina (CookieBossHTX)
Anthony Acuna (Dora Castro)
Damon Ayarzagoitia (DeShanna King)