Recent high school graduates share their stories about their efforts to overcome major obstacles to earn their diplomas and the challenges that lie ahead as they take their next step.

The Class of 2017 graduates have turned their tassels and tossed their caps and are readying for their next adventure.

Some of them overcame incredible health scares and trekked long distances to earn their diplomas. For many, the real challenge lies just ahead as they seek to find their new identities in a career or college, some without the safe haven of home for the first time.

A complete list of area graduates can be found here.

Here's a look at some recent graduates' stories:

Overcoming the odds

Megan Donaldson was a Green Local eighth-grade basketball player in 2012 when she tripped dashing for a rebound. She fell face first, smacking her right cheekbone on the court.

The blow disoriented her, and she had trouble thinking of what to do when her teammates tried to pass her the ball. The 13-year-old realized she couldn't remember how to ask her dad for her water bottle during a timeout.

Her parents rushed her to the hospital where her mind continued to deteriorate. She forgot how to walk and how to eat. She couldn't put a sentence together and didn't have the brain capacity to watch TV.

"I wasn't allowed to be left alone, I had the brain of a 3 or 4 year old," she said.

Medical test after medical test revealed nothing alarming, and doctors released her after four days with a diagnosis of a severe concussion.

Donaldson spent the next 37 months attending four types of therapy five days a week to learn how to walk, talk and function on her own.

It wasn't until May 2015 that a doctor from the University of Buffalo scanned her brain using a SPECT camera, which monitors blood flow in the regions of the brain. The doctor concluded her woes were likely caused by a brain infection, such as viral encephalitis. Encephalitis is a sudden onset of inflammation of the brain.

"It showed that I had dead spots all over my brain," Donaldson said. "In every single lobe of my brain, there were dead spots so there was no blood flowing to those spots."

Doctors now believe Donaldson contracted the virus at some point before she fell during her basketball game, and that the fall masked the virus from the specialists at the time.

Donaldson, who had excelled at school and had taken high school courses while in eighth grade, repeated her freshman year through home tutoring. When she returned to Green High School for her sophomore year, she took only two classes — chemistry and geology — as she acclimated back into the classroom environment.

During her junior and senior years, she picked up a heavier class schedule to ensure she would graduate with the Class of 2017.

"Even the change from middle school to high school is big for a regular person. Then going from middle school to no school, it was tough," Donaldson said. "I spent hours studying every single night and I didn't spend a lot with my friends. I missed out on a lot."

But she says it was all worth it when she ended her senior year with a 3.97 grade point average and a 30 on her ACT college-entrance exam.

"To be able to graduate and walk across the stage, it was the most amazing thing that I could ever imagine," Donaldson said. "Even the doctors never thought I would be where I am today."

Donaldson, who still struggles with memory and reading issues, plans to attend Aultman College of Nursing & Health Sciences and hopes to become a pediatric oncologist nurse to treat children with cancer. She said her career choice was influenced by her hospital stay in 2012.

"I don't really remember anything from the hospital … (except that) I would look forward to my nurse coming in every single day. That's all I had to look forward to, how my nurse could make me so happy and make me laugh. I want to turn that around and do that for someone else." 

Grad x 4

Their parents stopped dressing them alike when they were in first grade.

But even as 18-year-olds, the Fager quadruplets – Kasandra, Kristine, Katheryn and Katlyn – said some people still can't tell them apart.

"It was always funny going to school and having teachers confused," said Kristine, the second born to Sandra and Lester Fager.

Kristine and her sisters recalled instances where teachers would call them by the wrong name or when one history teacher seemed perplexed their freshman year when Kristine walked into the class during fifth period. The teacher already had Katlyn in his third-period class.

"Wait, there's two of you?" he asked.

"No … there's four," Kristine recalls answering.

While the sisters share many of the same friends, each has each developed their own separate interests — there's no single activity that all four share in common — and they have exerted their individualism in other ways, such as when Kasandra and Katheryn both decided to work at Dollar General but chose different locations.

This fall, the four sisters — all graduated from Northwest High School in the top fourth of their class — will attend four different colleges.

Katheryn, the most laid back of the four sisters, has enrolled at Stark State College to pursue a degree in emergency medical services. She found she wanted to help others and serve the community while studying health technologies at R.G. Drage Career Technical Center as well as through her participation with the Northwest Fire Explorers program, which gives students hands-on experience of what a firefighter's job entails.

Katlyn, the shyest one, wants to be a veterinarian. She plans to enroll in the University of Findlay's pre-veterinary medicine program and eventually enlist in the U.S. Army. While she cares for her own rabbit, guinea pig and hamster at home, Katlyn said R.G. Drage's animal science and management program and her volunteer work at Stark Park's wildlife center helped solidify her career decision.

Kasandra, the tomboy, will attend Bowling Green State University to pursue a degree specializing in technical theatre. She credits her time in Northwest High School's audio-visual club for inspiring her and introducing her to the backstage where she worked with actors and handled curtain and lighting duties for school performances. Kasandra also plans to play the flute in the university's marching band.

Kristine, the bossy one, plans to attend Ashland University, a school she chose because its smaller size reminds her of Northwest. She remains undecided on a major. The former Northwest concert and varsity choir singer and Summit Choral Society member will sing in Ashland's choir.

From Brazil

For Igor Santos Borges, the first obstacle he had to overcome to graduate from Minerva High School started with boarding an airplane.

The Brazil native, who spoke little English, had never set foot on an airplane.

"It was pretty scary," he said.

But Borges was determined to follow a path taken by his godfather, Diogenes Gomes, who came to Minerva as a foreign exchange student in 1993. Gomes loved his experience in Ohio so much he convinced his parents to allow his Ohio host parents to adopt him so he could graduate from Minerva High School in 1995.

He then convinced Borges to move to Minerva to live with his adopted sister, Mollee Markins. Borges, whose mother died in 2011, had been living with his soccer coach for a couple of years while he played for Brazil's national soccer team. 

"He asked me if I would like to try to come here and play soccer," recalled Borges, who arrived in Minerva in July 2016.

In March, Borges officially was adopted by the Markins family. 

Due to differing graduation requirements, Borges needed to complete nearly two years' worth of high school credits in a single year in order to graduate on time.

He also needed all four years of language arts because the English classes he took in Brazil were counted as a foreign language, as well as adjusting to the longer school days. Most students in Brazil attend school about four hours a day.

"I did online classes and I would not have a free period the whole day," he said. "… I also did work at home, too. It was pretty hard but after a while, I was used to it."

Borges, who has visited Disney World and Cedar Point, said the best part of moving to the United States has been making new friends through school and soccer. He only played for Minerva's soccer team for half of a season due to the wait for his adoption to be finalized, but has played with a traveling team and in an indoor league.

Borges hopes to continue playing soccer as well as enroll in college this fall to pursue either engineering or math.

On the job

Breanna Monter grew up with grease and oil under her fingernails. The Louisville City Schools student began watching her mom and grandpa repair and maintain cars as a child, occasionally getting the chance to help pour new oil during a routine oil change.

As a high school student, Monter planned to enroll in one of the auto repair programs at the R.G. Drage Career Technical Center — until she heard about the school's heavy truck and diesel technology program.

"I thought that sounded more fun and interesting," said Monter, one of two girls in the two-year program. "I absolutely loved it."

She said the hands-on work in the program appealed to her and credits her teacher for ensuring she understood the material before moving on.

During a job fair at Drage, Monter introduced herself to a representative of Beaver Excavating, a Perry Township-based site development and construction company that handles projects in a five-state region. It employs roughly 500 workers during its peak season and boasts a fleet of more than 500 pieces of specialized equipment.

At age 17 and still a high school senior attending morning classes at Drage, Monter became Beaver's youngest — and first female — diesel mechanic.

Now that she's graduated, the 18-year-old is working for Beaver full-time.

"Everyone treats me great. I fit right in," said Monter, who is at least 20 years younger than the four other mechanics in Beaver's main shop. "I love all the guys who work there and they don't have any problem with me being a girl."

Gabrielle Kline of Beaver Excavating said Monter has been an asset to the company.

“She’s very upbeat and positive and she’s not afraid to tackle anything,” Kline said. “Even if you indicate, even marginally, that she might not be able to do it, she will prove you wrong.” 

No slacking off

You may have seen Ambriah Phillips' artwork at the Canton Museum of Art, in the newspaper or sketched in chalk along downtown Canton sidewalks.

The Sandy Valley High graduate hopes you soon will see her artwork through the designs of cars, toys, furniture, footwear and more.

Phillips, who graduated second in her class of 172 students, plans to attend the Cleveland Institute of Art this fall to major in industrial design. The institute's industrial design program, which shows students how to combine their artistic talent with research to create an appealing product design, has been ranked as one of the top programs in the country.

Phillips, who had initially wanted to pursue a career in character animation, decided to switch her focus after realizing that it would be a better fit with her artistic style.

"I had a really hard time making cartoony things," she said as she described her take on an assignment where she drew a hippo's head on a voluptuous woman's body.

She said she tends toward drawing and painting more realistic pieces. Hands, which are challenging for many artists, are among her favorite to draw. 

As an industrial designer, Phillips will need to draw upon the communication and leadership skills she gained as the president of Sandy Valley's National Arts Honors Society and National Honor Society and as the senior class vice president. She'll also need to learn new skills such as advanced graphic design and manufacturing methods. 

To ensure she doesn't fall behind, Phillips plans to follow the same advice she would give to incoming high school freshman: "It's important to do your work. It's important to start your freshman year," she said. "Don't think you can catch up."

Reach Kelli at 330-580-8339 or

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