On the brink of dropping out, student becomes valedictorian with help of bus pass

CHICAGO, Ill. -- 230 at risk students graduated today in a joyful ceremony for the Chicago Excel Academy.

But one student nearly missed his high school experience altogether.

Yoquan Williams, 18, was determined to go to school, even with significant financial and family obstacles and the challenge of transportation.

Thursday he received his diploma, which may be the second most important piece of paper in his education behind his bus pass.

“Some days I could afford bus fare, and some days,” Williams said. “I couldn't really see a way for me to get there. … It was just an issue of me getting there every day. And for a long period of time, I stopped coming to school.”

That nearly meant dropping out altogether until his aunt talked to counselors at Camelot Education, a group that partners with public schools to help a-risk students. They got Williams a bus pass and he enrolled in Chicago Excel Academy, a school where students who had either dropped out or fallen behind get a second chance.

Williams made the most of it and earned a perfect 4.0 GPA.

“Yoquan has an amazing work ethic. When he puts his mind to something, he’s able to go full force. He’s very dedicated,” said Celeste Sulaiman, director of student services.

Williams graduated Thursday as the class of 2018 valedictorian.

When he stepped to the podium to address the 230 students and their families there was a sense of relief and reflection.

“By certain people breaking stereotypes and saying, ‘Yes we can do this,’ other people in my community will say, ‘Oh this person did it and he came from the exact same background as I did … then why can’t I do it?’”

Williams will be studying creative writing at Bradley University where he says he wants to write books or screenplays and be the next Steven Speilberg.