Montgomery County, TN – Sometimes the most important part of a choice is what you do with the consequence. For 17-year-old Zachary Delatorre, he was done letting a few poor decisions define him. Zach will cross the stage, overcoming more than one obstacle, earning his high school diploma in the first graduating class of Clarksville-Montgomery County School System (CMCSS) Adult High School.
“It was a blessing in disguise,” said Zach. He struggled with outside pressures and was warned he was on a dangerous path. “[Since middle school] I was told I wouldn’t graduate and I would be a dropout, and that was discouraging,” he said. “It made me feel like a failure. It made me want to give up on school.”
Seeing the potential in Zach, Dr. Kim Sigears and several teachers stepped in and encouraged him to imagine a different future. Dr. Sigears wanted him to focus on school, ignore the other choices, and invest in himself.
“Once I made the decision to continue to Adult High School, Ms. Tracy [Dewese] gave me hope; the staff there gave me hope.” He had several people in his corner who believed in his abilities. Zach credits Ms. McKnight and Ms. Sparn at Clarksville High School for continuing to believe in him. He insisted more than anything, “My mom and dad gave me hope not to give up and continued to encourage me.”
Once students are enrolled in Adult High, school counselors work with each student individually. They create a plan to help students complete their remaining graduation requirements. Every student’s needs are different, and the staff remains flexible and supportive as they work towards graduation.
For Zach, Adult High School ignited the belief he’d been missing. “I never had an opportunity like this,” he said. “It was really good for me. It was different.” There was a freedom to work independently. Teachers would help with the subject matter but allowed Zach to control the pace. He found the ability to self-direct a welcome change in learning style.
“In the mornings, I would walk through the door. Ms. Tracy would always greet me and walk me to my class. There’s a lot of positivity there.” The positivity propelled him to continue to push himself. The supportive environment was what he needed. “It was the best administration and staff I have ever been around. I felt comfortable.”
There were still times when the situation became almost overwhelming. “What got me through the entire process was not self-motivation. I have anxiety, and I can get overwhelmed by my thoughts. But I learned how to get one thing done and go on to the next. Sometimes I just had to do it. I learned a lot of patience for myself. If I didn’t have patience for myself, I would not be successful.” He remained focused, especially when he considered everyone standing behind him supportively. “I thought, ‘My grandma and uncle are coming out from Nevada. So I’ve just got to do it.’”
As he confidently plans for his future, Zach looks forward to a career in the trades. “I want to make a career out of HVAC or welding,” he said. These high-demand, skilled professions will give him the foundation to build a better future. He credits a class he took years ago for sparking his interest in a welding career initially.
“I like working with my hands,” he explained. “My freshman year, I took an agriculture class. We had 4×4 metal sheets, and we would weld the sheets together into a birdhouse.”
Zach’s journey is proof that you cannot be sure of the path life will take, and it’s always possible to find an opportunity if you’re willing to put in the work. The impact of his success has not fully resonated yet. Soon, he’ll join the 97 other graduates of Adult High School. “It will hit me on Wednesday when I’m walking,” he laughs.
“It feels good to know not only did I prove everyone wrong, but I finally believed in myself and saw that, yes, I can do it once I put my mind and heart into it. I struggle with anxiety and ADHD. I was able to overcome that and see that I can accomplish anything I put my mind to.”