Jamie Drake, a Homestead High School Spanish teacher, became a fan of student Deaira Virges upon learning they both overcame difficult childhood experiences.
“To use a baseball analogy, many of the students at Homestead start at third base and are ready to score a run from the outset,” Drake said by email. “Deaira has to start in the batter's box and must work much harder to score that run. But she does and she will.”
Virges is one of 644 Homestead seniors – and among more than 3,900 Allen County students – expected to graduate this spring. Bishop Luers and Bishop Dwenger high schools kick off the commencement season with ceremonies Friday.
Virges, 17, will continue her education at Purdue University Fort Wayne. She plans to earn a bachelor's degree in psychology and any additional credentials needed to pursue a counseling career – her aspiration since middle school.
“I've always been the friend who's, like, been able to give a lot of support and guidance,” Virges said. “I've just always felt a deep sense of care for all the people that are close to me.”
Virges has exercised that compassion at Erin's House for Grieving Children, where she has worked with children who have experienced a death. The activities allow the children to express feelings about their loss and explore healthy coping strategies, said Ellen Roemke, director of volunteers.
Virges always puts others before herself, Roemke said, and she is a quiet source of strength, especially when it comes to children who are struggling.
“She is passionate about helping others and has an extra level of empathy for those who have experienced trauma and upheaval in their young lives,” Roemke said by email.
Virges said she is inspired by her mother, a single parent who overcame obstacles while raising children. Michelle Duvall said she is excited about her daughter's future.
“It took me 15 years to get a bachelor's degree, so I don't want her to go through that,” Duvall said, adding Virges would often watch her younger sister at night so Duvall could study.
Duvall commended her daughter for knowing what she wants.
“I think Erin's House helped her to grow so much that she just knew she wanted to make an impact on people's lives,” Duvall said.
Virges, who also works at a restaurant, has a good start on her collegiate career. Along with earning 46 credits through Homestead's dual-credit program, Virges is graduating as a 21st Century Scholar.
The state program offers up to four years' paid tuition at participating Indiana colleges and universities. Students must apply to the scholars program as seventh or eighth graders, and income eligibility guidelines apply. Students must complete various tasks in high school to maintain eligibility.
“I'm glad that she doesn't (say), like, 'Mom, I want to take a break and not go to college right away,'” Duvall said.
“I'm really proud of her for taking that initiative.”
Virges said she's always been future-oriented, and knew being a 21st Century Scholar would save her and her mother money. Drake views the planning differently.
“Deaira comes from a single-parent household that is of modest means, and she also has had some significant adverse experiences in her young life,” he said.
“Overcoming them to be able to focus well in the moment while also being able to form a long-term plan for her life beyond Homestead is a substantial victory.”
Virges doesn't need anyone else to define her success, however.
“Success,” she said, “really just comes from you.”
• Bishop Luers, 4 p.m. at USF Performing Arts Center
• Bishop Dwenger, 6:30 p.m. at Embassy Theatre
• Concordia Lutheran, 1 p.m. at Embassy Theatre
• New Haven, 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• East Allen University, 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• Snider, 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• Woodlan, 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• South Side, 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• Wayne, 10 a.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• North Side, 1:30 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• Heritage, 2 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• Northrop, 5 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• Leo, 7 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• Blackhawk Christian, 4 p.m., South Campus Worship Center
• Carroll, 3 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• Homestead, 4 p.m. at Memorial Coliseum
• Canterbury, 6:30 p.m. at Canterbury
• Cornerstone College Prep High School, 11 a.m., livestream only at www.cornerstonecollegeprep.org