West Laurens grad battles through tough times: 'Don't get so caught up in your situation'
High School can be filled with ups and downs. But some students are faced with more hardship than others.
Four years ago, Russell Graham walked through the doors at West Laurens High School with a smile. Four years later, he's walking out with that same smile.
"I'm proud of myself for not letting my situation cut me off from being my true self," Graham said.
His true self is happy and outgoing. Jenny Green got to know Russell well when she served as his homebound instructor after his own stepfather shot him.
"Always a little ray of sunshine. His friends think that his teachers think that the administration thinks that," Green said.
That man also killed Russell's mother and set their house on fire before killing himself. It's more than most people have to deal with their whole lives.
"It was a situation I went into thinking that I would go in feeling sorry for him," she said.
Less than six months after the tragedy came another loss - Russell lost his biological father.
"For him to be at peace with himself and with his situation as much as he is. I think it speaks volumes and didn't take what happened to him as necessarily all bad," Green said.
Even though Russell's parents aren't with him anymore, he still remembers the values they taught him.
"They always preached to me how education is the most important thing, especially with me being a black male," he said.
Graham now lives with his older brother DeAnthony Rhodes.
"It's been a lot. It's been a lot this past year and a half, but we still get up every day and keep pushing," Rhodes said.
"Adjusting to staying with my brother, not being able to come home and talk to my parents about my day is a lot to really wrap my head around still," Graham said.
But Russell found support not only from his brothers but also through his sports teams. He played football and ran track.
"Many people would go into a shell. But I was trying to step away from that and continue to be me," Graham said.
"You don't encounter Russell and walk away feeling anything but better," Green said.
Now Graham's planning on going to college.
"They always told me to look for the good in the bad situation. Somebody always has it worse than you, so don't get so caught up in your situation," said Graham.
This resilient young man looks forward to a future that will make his parents proud.
Graham plans to go to Middle Georgia State University in the Fall and major in psychology to become a trauma therapist to help others who have lived through difficult situations.