Juan Carreon receives the vinyl folder that will hold his Luverne High School Class of 2015 diploma from Principal Ryan Johnson earlier this month. Carreon worked through the school’s alternative school to achieve the diploma that only a handful of members in his family have achieved.

Defying the odds

Sometimes life's about not giving up

Experiences often shape who we are and define what we become in life.

No one knows that better than Juan Carreon, a 19-year-old I met for the first time during his graduation ceremony on April 15.

The informal afternoon gathering at Pizza Ranch was full of smiles, congratulatory conversations and tears of happiness from Carreon, his family members and Luverne High School faculty and administration.

School officials came to know Juan well because he is one of those students who didn’t let what life dealt him define who he is or, better yet, what he wasn’t.

He wasn’t stupid.

He wasn’t lazy.

He just needed a chance and the right environment to learn, especially math.

His mother, Janice Harris-Buesing, blames herself, wishing she could have helped him more with homework while battling her own health problems when Juan was in elementary school. She thought moving him from Missouri to Minnesota to live with family members would be best as she dealt with her health.

Instead of making the situation better, coming to a new environment was not conducive to learning. Juan often felt like an outsider, disconnected from his family. He often would stare at his homework, unsure of what needed to be completed or how to do it.

He said after months of being unable to finish a worksheet, teachers stopped giving him the papers.

Substance abuse could have led Juan to drop out of school entirely.

While visiting friends in Sioux City, Iowa, he stole from stores just to eat, and a drug overdose brought him to his knees.

The experience made him feel like a failure and propelled him to continue in school. This time he open-enrolled to Luverne, where he ultimately found support at the alternative learning center.

But the journey still wasn’t easy.

Juan could have dropped out of school last year when he didn’t have enough credits to graduate. One student did drop out of the 2014 class.

Instead of letting the feeling of failure overwhelm him, he moved forward.

Teachers at the alternative learning center said they didn’t give up on him because he didn’t give up on himself. He worked through the self-study program for mathematics earlier this month.

Juan said for his family’s sake, he is considering participating in Luverne’s May 17 graduation ceremonies. In his family, high school diplomas can be counted on one hand.

It was suggested that he should be the commencement speaker because he didn’t let his experiences take him away in a less positive direction.

“Now he has a diploma; he has a future,” said Superintendent Gary Fisher.

Juan plans to join a family member as an electrical journeyman – entrance of which requires a high school diploma.

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