(CNN) - Chelesa Fearce is the valedictorian at Charles Drew High School near Atlanta, Georgia, but it didn't come without a fight. The 17-year-old and her family have been homeless for years, living out of shelters, cars and occasionally short-lived apartments while her mom struggled to keep a job.
But Chelesa would crack open books at the homeless shelter and read against a cell phone light, she told CNN affiliate WSB. She's graduating with a 4.46 GPA, and is heading to Spelman College in the fall with enough credits to be a junior.
Her advice to students? "Do what you have to do right now so that you can have the future you want," she said.
CNN Films' "Girl Rising" documents extraordinary girls and the power of education to change the world. Watch June 16 on CNN
By Betsy Anderson, CNN
(CNN) - Purnima lives in Nepal. She wants to be a nurse. But because she is a girl instead of a boy, she is more likely to go to work than go to school.
In Nepal, government schools start charging tuition in the sixth grade. But Purnima was selected to be part of the Girls Education program with the nonprofit Room to Read and was able to continue her education.
"I am the first person getting an education in my family and my brother and sisters did not get the chance due to our family background ... we are from a poor family so we cannot afford to go to school," says Purnima.
Purnima lives with her family in a room above the carpet factory where her older sister works. Her father is paralyzed. Her mother became blind when Purnima was 2 years old. All her siblings stopped going to school after the fifth grade.
Purnima is 17 and has just finished secondary school at the top of her class. In fact, she was at the top of her class every year.
Purnima is about to start two years of Nepal's post-secondary school and she plans to go on to college. For a long time, she wanted to be an eye doctor. Now she says she is going to be a nurse and she may have a good chance to do just that. According to Room to Read, about 76% of its graduates go on to some kind of university, college or vocational training after secondary school.
(CNN) - The sign that covered a set of doors read, "We Love You Plaza Towers."
Children, toting big book bags and balloons, hugged their teachers and said goodbye before departing for the summer.
Many managed a smile despite the sad fact these end-of-the-year moments took place at Eastlake Elementary School because Plaza Towers is just a huge pile of rubble.
Kaylee Sanchez, a kindergartner who was shielded by one of her teachers as the storm plowed over Plaza Towers, said she was "freaking out" before going to Thursday's reunion.
But once she and the other children got there, laughter and playfulness returned to a group that suffered the worst when an EF5 tornado struck Monday.
Seven of their schoolmates were killed by the storm, which lead to 17 other deaths.
Kaylee's mother, Maria, applauded administrators for putting together the sendoff where students also received a backpack full of activities, snacks, stuffed animals and some basic necessities for the coming days.
"It's a really good thing because they get to see all their friends to make sure they are OK," Maria Sanchez said. "It's a good atmosphere to see the all these kids laughing and playing. ... My own daughter has been scared until today. When it started storming this morning she didn't want to come."
Pounding rain soaked Moore on Thursday morning, and winds sent pieces of debris flying, hindering recovery efforts three days after the devastating tornado.
Once she got there, Maria and the other children spilled around, and raced up to each other when they saw someone they had been worrying about.
Emily Stephens, a student at Plaza Towers, said she was in an underground shelter when the tornado hit.
"I just hope everyone's OK," she said. "I hope they get a new house - and a better one."
Stephens said "some of my house got ripped down."
She was happy to get the crayons, books and candy and, most importantly, see her classmates.
"It makes me glad to see my friends and that they're alive," she said.
By CNN Staff
(CNN) - The Chicago Board of Education voted Wednesday to close 50 schools, a controversial move that drew sharp criticism from the city's teachers union.The vote comes two months after officials announced plans to shutter the schools.
The closures "will consolidate underutilized schools and programs to provide students with the quality, 21st century education they need to succeed in the classroom," Chicago Public Schools said in a statement Wednesday.
The Chicago Teachers Union opposed the closures, which it said would disproportionately affect African-American students.
"Today is a day of mourning for the children of Chicago. Their education has been hijacked by an unrepresentative, unelected corporate school board, acting at the behest of a mayor who has no vision for improving the education of our children," said Karen Lewis, the union's president. "Closing schools is not an education plan. It is a scorched earth policy."
(CNN) - When first-grade teacher Waynel Mayes saw that a tornado was approaching her Oklahoma elementary school, she began to move the desks around, told the kids they were playing "worms" who had to stay in their tunnels.
Then, she had another idea: She grabbed their musical instruments and asked them to play and sing as loud as they could. They could scream if they were scared, she said, but just don't stop singing.
"All our teachers were so brave," Mayes said, but the kids helped, too. "They were the bravest, they were the heroes because they listened to all the teachers."
By Josh Levs, CNN
(CNN) - It was the end of the school day. The kids at Plaza Towers Elementary School were stuffing their backpacks, looking forward to going home, playing with friends, eating snacks.
But the tornado warnings changed that.
When the twister came barreling in Monday afternoon, terrified young students huddled together in the hallways, screaming as walls and roofs caved in. Chairs and backpacks swirled above them. The winds and blaring sounds enveloped them. Cars from the parking lot landed just inches away.
Teachers dove onto groups of kids to protect them from falling debris.
It was the biggest tornado they'd ever seen. Described as a lawn-mower blade spanning two miles, it shredded through their town.
"It was scary," student Julio Rodriguez told CNN. Teachers instructed the kids to crouch down, "and you covered your head with your hands," he demonstrated.
"I had to hold on to the wall to keep myself safe because I didn't want to fly away in the tornado," one little girl told KFOR.
The 17 mile-long twister stayed on the ground for 40 minutes.
By the time it was gone, so was the school in Moore, Oklahoma. In its place was a huge pile of rubble, trapping teachers and children.
And seven students were dead.
They were in a classroom, Moore Fire Department Chief Gary Bird told CNN Wednesday.
Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb told CNN Tuesday that the children were in a basement, where they drowned. But Bird said Wednesday that based on everything he's been told, "it had nothing to do with flooding."
In the tornado's wake, the school quickly became the epicenter of the tragedy in this shattered town, part of the metropolitan Oklahoma City area.
By Mariano Castillo, CNN
Birmingham, Alabama (CNN) - The class of 1963 crowded in a rectangle on the dance floor, the memories of high school fresh on their minds as the band played in a sea of pink and blue hues.
Aretha Franklin. Etta James. The Temptations. Just what you would expect to be playing at a 1960s prom. Yet the song that drew the most bodies to the dance floor was "The Wobble."
Until this hip-hop song emptied the chairs, it felt as if the auditorium had been transported back 50 years.
But it's 2013, and despite the full-court nostalgia for the 1960s, that decade was one of the most difficult times in Birmingham's history.
Societal tensions over race were so high in 1963 that the city canceled senior prom for five of the city's segregated high schools for blacks.
Today, a half century has passed since the seminal civil rights protests that changed Birmingham and plotted a path for the nation away from segregation and toward equal rights.
Just like that path, the healing process has been a long one.
The Historic 1963 Prom, held Friday and hosted by the city of Birmingham, closed one chapter for these Alabamans.
'A tension-filled city'
Growing up in Birmingham in the 1950s, Earnestine Thomas knew the rules of this segregated city. At a restaurant, she could pay in the front, but had to walk around the back to get her food from a cook. She could shop only in certain places; there were neighborhoods that she knew not to visit.
"As a child, I recognized that it was unfair, but didn't understand that there were laws propping (segregation) up," she said as she waited for a hair appointment before Friday's prom.
She treated herself to a hair styling before donning a lavender dress with a sequined jacket and matching shoes. Lavender was a fitting color, she said, not just because it is her favorite, but because it was the school color at Parker High School.
It was a day of celebration that she and her classmates were denied in 1963.
Oklahoma City (CNN) - Second-grade teacher Tammy Glasgow walks around what's left of Briarwood Elementary, struggling to pick out of its wreckage the things that once made a school.
"This was the cafeteria."
"This is where my desk sat."
"This is my classroom door."
"That yellow wall that's standing, that's where we were," said Glasgow, pointing to a squat stack of cinder blocks.
She, like many teachers at Oklahoma City's Briarwood, helped to keep students safe when the tornado tore through Monday, killing at least 24 people in the area, but incredibly, given the state of the building, no one at Briarwood.
Their actions no doubt saved lives.
Many have called the teachers - at least one of whom literally shielded children with her body - heroes.
But Glasgow said simply: "It's just our job."
Right before the tornado hit, she hurried students into two bathrooms and a closet. There were about eights boys in the boys' bathroom, including Glasgow's son, and a dozen girls in the girls' bathroom.
She and other adults were with three children in the closet.
"Before I shut the doors, because both bathrooms had doors, I said, 'I'm going to shut these doors,' and I said, 'I love you.' The boys looked at me a little strange. (I) walked in the girls' (bathroom) and said, 'I love you' and they all said 'I love you' back.
"I just told them to pray, and then that's what we did the whole time in the closet, just prayed," said Glasgow.
The storm blasted through.
By LZ Granderson, CNN contributor
Editor's note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and was a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.
(CNN) - Each day more than 55 million students attend the country's 130,000 schools.
Each day, parents and guardians entrust some 7 million teachers with the education of our children.
And on a normal day, that is all we expect teachers to do - teach.
But on those not-so normal days we are reminded that for six hours a day and more, five days a week, teaching is not the only thing teachers are charged with doing. On those not-so-normal days, we are reminded that teachers are also asked to be surrogate parents, protectors, heroes.
Monday was one of those not-so-normal days.
The nation watched in horror as a 2-mile-wide tornado with winds up to 200 mph tore through Moore, Oklahoma. As sirens blared and the ground shook, the full force of the twister hit Plaza Towers Elementary School around 3 p.m. It was full of students, young scared children who had nowhere to hide as the tornado ripped off the roof, sending debris everywhere.
"We had to pull a car out of the front hall off a teacher and I don't know what her name is, but she had three little kids underneath her," a rescuer said. "Good job teach."
By Moni Basu, CNN
Rome, Georgia (CNN) - Mireille Kibibi's march to the graduation stage at Berry College was tough - laden with the burdens of war.
As a little girl, she fled civil war in Burundi and escaped to neighboring Rwanda in 1994, the year of the genocide. In the chaos, she was separated from her mother, whom she has never seen again. Her father died a few years later.
Kibibi made it to the United States with her grandmother in 2005 and resumed school after missing fourth, fifth and eighth grades.
Now she was about to receive a bachelor's degree in accounting.
She felt all those things a college graduate feels: the relief that exams are over. The excitement of starting life in the real world. The joy of making your family proud.
But Kibibi's graduation was also filled with longing.
On this humid Saturday morning, as dark clouds delivered drizzle over North Georgia, Kibibi, 23, sat nervously among 377 classmates.
The rows and rows of folding chairs had been arranged on the south lawn days in advance. She wished her father and especially her grandmother could see her now, resplendent in the knee-length red dress she'd ordered on eBay. Her grandmother, who raised her, had died a while back.
"She's watching you," her friend Fatima Bostan-Ali reassured her.
"She's proud," said another friend, Lima Naseri.
Kibibi cherishes the support. She knows her friends understand. They are from Afghanistan and also have traveled uneasy paths to graduation day.