Commerce students defying low graduation rates - Western Mass News - WGGB/WSHM

Commerce students defying low graduation rates

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In 2011 only 30 percent of students graduated from Springfield's Commerce High School.

But Friday night, a group of seniors fought back against the odds, each bringing someone to their senior banquet that brought them to this point.

For Hector Guzman, it's his aunt.

"I wouldn't be graduating, I wouldn't be thinking about what I would be doing, and it would just all go down," he said.

His aunt, Waleska Lugo-Degesus, works for Westfield State University.

"I feel that every person has an opportunity to change a life at every moment during the day," she said.

With that in mind, she inspired both her nephew, Hector, and her cousin Xiomara Robles to go to college.

"She's the one that inspired me to get to Westfield State to do what I want to do," Robles said.

Lugo-Degesus says Springfield's low graduation rates are sometimes blamed on the tough circumstances some of the students are living in.

"Everyone has a story and they have overcome a lot of obstacles to get to where they are," she said.

No one knows that better than Commerce graduate Marc Gomes, who went to the banquet to share a story that many could not have overcome - his father was imprisoned when he was 5. Three of his brothers dropped out of school.

"I knew my stepfather wanted me to do better, to make something of myself," Gomes said.

His stepfather was hit by a car and died in a coma three years later.

Gomes says tragedy could have defined him, but he wouldn't let it. He went on to graduate from Commerce in 2006.

"I don't want to be a story of someone who could have been."

Friday night he shared that message to the graduating seniors at Commerce.

"It's not where you start, it's where you finish. It's all about the inner strength of that person. You have to want it in life because no one's going to give it to you."

Gomes is now a teacher in Springfield working on his doctorate.

The Commerce seniors will be graduating on June 4 at Symphony Hall.

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