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Students survive premature births, high school career

By Greg Gelpi

Overcoming a premature birth that left her weighing one pound and the death of her mother, T'Eldgra Steward, 18, is among the Morrow High School seniors in the Class of 2005.

"I was no bigger than my shoe, and you could fit me into the palm of your hand," Steward says, reflecting on being born three-and- a-half months premature.

Doctors feared that she could suffer anything from "mental retardation to being blind," she says, but through a "miracle" she stands at 5 feet 2 inches. The only lingering effect is her need for glasses. Owing much to doctors, she says she feels a "calling" to be a pediatric neurosurgeon.

Having survived a miraculous premature birth, she has also endured the death of her mother, who died as a result of lung cancer when Steward was 12.

"I'm very proud of myself because there's days I didn't feel like coming (to school)," Steward says. "You had to grow up fast."

Steward says that one of her teachers, Kristen Hathcock, took her in and helped her through.

"I call her 'mommy,'" Steward says. "She just took me in like I was one of her own."

Being a senior is about growing up and being mature, Adrian Grishby, 18, who also was born premature, says.

"It's like you're in charge," Grishby says. "You have to set an example for everybody. You just have to have a strong mind. You have to be a vocal person."

Although he stands at 6 foot 4 inches, he says that he was born two months early, weighing only three pounds. He calls it "amazing" how he has grown.

"Most people think when you're premature you're not going to be able to function as well," Grishby says. "There's always going to be bad times, but you just have to get back up."

The challenges differ for Regina Robinson, 18.

Robsinon says she has always been ahead of her peers and she is looking forward to the challenges that lie beyond graduation.

Robinson, the school council president, hopes to break into one of the traditionally "male-dominated" bands of Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., or Jackson State University in Jackson, Miss. She plays the baritone, an instrument she says is known as a "man's instrument."

"It seems just like yesterday I was in elementary school," she says.

Although she's been at Morrow High for four years, Robinson says she doesn't know but half of her senior class because the size of the school.

The school is one of diversity, challenging the students to grow and respect each other despite differences, Amber Pope, 17, says.

"We want to prove that we've grown," Pope says, adding that she and her classmates are a class of leaders and not followers.