Noel Salaices said he has become inspired over the past year to look beyond his circumstances and realize the blessings in his life.
Raised by his grandparents after his father abandoned the family at an early age and his mother couldn’t deal with the hardships of raising a young child by herself, Salaices grew up mostly in Dalton after moving from Mexico at a young age.
He said his change in attitude began when he was named a recipient of the national Horatio Alger Scholarship, which provides him with $20,000 over the course of his college career. Recipients, according to the organization, are chosen based on their “demonstrated commitment to education, their dedication to community service, and strength of character in overcoming personal obstacles to achieve academic excellence.” Through the scholarship, he was able to attend a conference in which he met other recipients.
“I met kids there that when I heard their stories, I was like, ‘I don’t even belong here,’” he said. So he changed his attitude about himself and his circumstances. “If you just sit here and let little things like that break you, then you have failed.”
Salaices learned of the award on the two-year anniversary of the death of a teacher who had been instrumental in helping him succeed. Demera Robinson was killed in a vehicle wreck in January 2011. She had encouraged him to be more than he thought he could be, he said. When he came to her College InSight/AVID program for students working to become the first in their families to attend college, he didn’t even understand the concepts behind grade point averages and taking the SAT, a test used in determining admission to many colleges.
“She helped me see the potential that I have academically,” Salaices said. “She pushed people to do their best, and she wanted all of her students to do good and succeed.”
When she passed away, he said, he promised himself he was going to continue with his work.
Now Salaices is graduating with honors from Dalton High School today with plans to attend Georgia State University. He doesn’t know yet what he will major in, but he knows what he wants to do: become a producer and write his own movies and television shows.
He graduates as one of only a handful of AP Scholars at the school. AP Scholars are students who have completed three Advanced Placement classes that double as college credit at most institutions and received high grades on their exit tests. Because he went beyond that requirement and completed four classes and passed their corresponding tests, he is also an AP Scholar with Honor.
Salaices said he has several people to thank in his life. There are the parents who raised him, Rafael and Cristina Salaices, along with special friends Angela Perez, Dalia Hernandez and Gladis Paz, who he said helped him be a teenager and have fun instead of only focusing on academics. He credits several teachers with bringing him to where he is now and said he even enjoyed some classes covering subjects he didn’t particularly like because the teachers were so engaging.
On top of the Horatio Alger Scholarship, Salaices was awarded several others including the Ronald McDonald Scholarship, the Georgia Opportunity Scholarship, one from the Run for John, and a scholarship set up in Demera Robinson’s honor. He expects to be able to attend at least his first year of college for free.