Valedictorian dedicates senior year to mom, who pushed him to be better student

By  | 

BURTON (WJRT) (06/06/2019) - A message about resiliency from a high school Valedictorian.

"Resiliency looks at problems and instead of saying 'why me,' says 'why not,'" said Sam Berry III.

The young man has been forced to overcome personal tragedy in his own life. Thursday night, the 18-year old encouraged fellow students to become the best version of who they are.

Berry was presented with the class of 2019 leadership award during Madison Academy High School's graduation ceremony.

He's also the high school's first African-American valedictorian. The public charter school graduated its first class of seniors in 2012.

But the road to academic success has not been an easy one for the young man, whose life changed forever at the age of 13.

"I lost my mother, my mentor, my cheerleader, my best friend," Berry told the graduates.

He used the experience of losing his mother, Nyree Willis, to turn his life around.

"Losing is just a part of life really," he said. "Turn that into something. Turn that into motivation and that's what I did."

Thursday night, the student-athlete, who is also a Flint native, graduates the head of his class, thanks to the help of teachers and coaches who encouraged him along the way.

Berry also had a chance to give back his senior year, mentoring a ninth grader through his freshman year of high school.

"Failure is not fatal and I should always just keep on going no matter the situation should be and remain humble," said Antonio Sweeney, when asked what he learned from Berry.

A life lesson that Berry has had to take to heart himself. In December his aunt, his legal guardian, passed away.

"She told me to keep my head straight," Berry said.

He followed that advice, pursuing sports and academics. At the end of his speech, Berry ended with a message to his late mother.

"And to my mom, we did it," he said.

Now Berry is ready to take his next step. He'll be heading to Oakland University this fall on a full-ride scholarship.