Small steps help Foresthill student reach big goal

Teen abandoned by mother, continued with high school
By: Colin Berr Journal Staff Writer
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The walk across a graduation stage is a short one. A few steps, a handshake, and the student departs with diploma in hand. Yet the road it takes to get there can be daunting. For Foresthill senior Matthew Daniels, it was the journey of a lifetime. Raised by a single mom and later abandoned, the only road Daniels seemed headed down was one of juvenile delinquency. “I could tell Matt had a lot of issues from outside the classroom that he brought in with him when he first started high school,” said welding teacher James Anderson. Growing up in a poor, drug-ravaged family, Daniels blended in well with other troubled youths at his high school. “We would go out and do stupid stuff,” Daniels said. “Alcohol and drugs were always on the scene.” A string of disciplinary and academic problems were leading to the possibility that he would become just another statistic on the statewide dropout demographic. Then, at the start of his senior year, the unexpected happened. “When he walked in to my class on the first day, he was a completely different person,” said Rachel Moses, Daniels’ history teacher. “We were literally at heads all semester when I first encountered him. Now, he was a polite, mature young man. He even gave me a big hug!” While his teachers couldn’t explain the change, Daniels recalled his transformation. “I looked at what I was doing and realized that if I continued down this road, I would end up as poor as my parents,” Daniels said. “You become who you hang out with. And I decided that I didn’t want to be like the people I was with.” Daniels said that it took him about a month to withdraw from his environment. “When my friends asked me to go drinking with them over the weekend, I said no,” Daniels said. “Instead, I looked to better myself at work and at school.” In addition to working with a glass company, Daniels put tremendous effort into his senior project, which focused on the effects of drug and alcohol abuse. “The subject really hit home with me, and I saw the project as an opportunity to help others in a situation I had once been in,” Daniels said. Yet no sooner had Daniels gotten back on his feet, he was hit by another setback - his mother abandoned him and his twin brother for Nevada. “She wanted me to go with her, but I told her that I wasn’t leaving,” Daniels recalled. “I was going to stay at Foresthill and finish my education.” Left completely on his own, Daniels was able to find lodging with friends and worked to support his rent payments. “It made me a stronger person,” Daniels said. “Even when things didn’t work out one day, I would look forward to what tomorrow would bring.” Come June 5, he will be the first in his family to graduate from high school. “There’s a long list of people I have to thank.” Daniels said. “Teachers that put up with me over the years, people who kept me in line knowing I’d overcome.” Anderson felt Daniels transformed from a boy to a man during his high school years. “What’s great about Matt is that he’s an independent thinker,” Anderson said. “He’s confident, doesn’t need to be told what to do, and thinks about his future. I know he’s going to be successful in whatever he does.” When asked what advice he might have for others in a similar situation, Daniels said it’s better to focus on the positive aspects of life. “Don’t think of it as a burden, see it as a gift,” Daniels said. “When you go to bed, reflect on that day and focus on that one thing that made you proud, that helps you move forward. Each small step is a victory.” As he walks across the graduation stage, every step Matt takes will be reminiscent of the many smaller ones he took to get there.