Felix Castro has been blind since birth, but made his way from one side of the Bronx to the other to attend school everyday, using a walking cane and determination.
He traveled by bus and subway from his Morris Heights home to the New York Institute for Special Education on Pelham Parkway.
"I'm one that doesn't back down, no matter what obstacles are in front of me," said Castro, 19.
That attitude sent him straight to the top of his class, and he graduated on June 20, as class Valedictorian.
In September, he will attend St. Thomas Aquinas College in Rockland County, where he received a $7,000 scholarship. He plans to study criminal justice.
"I'm going to college to make something of myself," he said. "I want to meet different types of people living different types of lives."
Castro was born completely blind in his right eye. His left eye detects changes in lighting and shadows.
Castro credits NYISE, which he attended from kindergarten through the 12th grade, with helping him to function as a regular teenager. He singled out his mobility instructor, Tom Yoder, who taught Castro how to navigate public transportation and the streets.
"It was a scary experience at first, learning to travel,” Castro said. “But I'm confident now that I can safely go out and go to work, go to the store, live my life as if I were a regular sighted person."
Castro rides a bike and plays sports, with wrestling his favorite. Nearly a dozen trophies decorate his home.
“He's come a long way. He pushes himself so hard sometimes, I tell him to loosen up a little," said Castro's mother, Angela Colon, 54. "He helped me be strong, and I helped him be strong.”
Castro knows that college will be a struggle; his school will not offer any course material in Braille, so Castro will have to "do a lot of listening, scanning and taking notes in my head," he said.
He uses Kurzweil, a text-to-speech reader software program, which scans in book pages and reads them aloud.
"I'm willing to do whatever it requires to be successful," said Castro.
And of his journey to college, he says, "I got there by pushing and pushing myself and working hard. I had to go that little extra mile."
During nearly three wrenching months of reconstructive surgery and hospital care, Emily Sexton displayed characteristic calm.
She had been hit by a car while waiting for a bus in a highly-publicized drunk-driving case on City Island in 2010, in the middle of her senior year at Preston High School in Throgs Neck.
She had a shattered pelvis, several broken bones, nerve damage and internal complications.
Jacobi Medical Center Physician Assistant Joseph Linder remembers attaching a ventilator to the critically ill girl.
“She said, ‘Ok, sounds good, no problem,’” Linder recalled. “There was never any nervousness. No flinching.”
Sexton, 18, made a miraculous recovery, and said it’s almost like the accident never happened.
She went on to graduate Preston and completed her freshman year at Adelphi University in Long Island last month. She resumed a normal life biking and kayaking, thanks to Jacobi, she said.
“Everytime I go through it, I get upset,” said Sheldon Teperman, director of Jacobi’s Level 1 trauma unit. “I’ve never seen this much bleeding come out of someone so small and, quite frankly, I did not think she was going to survive.”
Teperman said Sexton defied the years-long timeline he had constructed for her progress.
“The degree of injury, you don’t expect someone to come all the way back,” he said.
But Sexton was quickly able to walk again. She received the “Courage” award at high school graduation.
“She was remarkably serene about everything,” said her mother, Harlan Sexton. “I think it was way harder on everyone else.”
Sexton was born in South Korea and adopted by her parents, Harlan and David Sexton, when she was a year old.
She is shy, with long black hair. But on a recent visit to the hospital she beamed up while chatting with the nurses, who all remember her.
“Maybe I’m more mature,” she said as she reflected on the experience. “It’s kind of just been normal now. I don’t dwell on it."