(CNN) - Balaal Hollings, a senior at Northwestern High School in Detroit, was shot in the head in April after trying to break up a fight at the party. For weeks, the honor student, homecoming king and class president was in the hospital, fighting for his life.
But he stunned his classmates this week by walking on stage during their graduation ceremony, wearing a helmet, tassel and graduating robe. His classmates rose to their feet, and many cried.
"First of all, I want to thank God," he told his classmates. "It is so good to be alive."
(CNN) - There's not one, not two, but 29 valedictorians graduating from Redmond High School in Oregon this year. The school implemented a new system that adds weight to some classes, and enables students to receive up to a 5.0 GPA. But these students had three years under the old system, and all qualified to be valedictorian, CNN affiliate KTVZ reported.
It's expected to be a one-time phenom in Redmond, school officials said, but it's not the only place to have far more than one valedictorian. Just last year, a high school in Ocala, Florida, graduated 25 valedictorians - there, the top students all earned a 5.0 because of the college-level classes they'd taken.
(CNN) - Arvind Mahankali, a 13-year-old eighth-grader from Bayside Hills, New York, won the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday, correctly spelling the word "knaidel.""It means that I am retiring on a good note," said Mahankali, who attends Nathaniel Hawthorne Middle School 74 and was in his last year of eligibility. "I shall spend the summer, maybe the entire day, studying physics."
Mahankali, who wants to become a physicist, had finished third in the two previous national bees, being eliminated after misspelling words with German roots.
"I thought that the German curse had turned into a German blessing," he said, when asked what he thought when he heard the final word, a German-derived Yiddish word for a type of dumpling.
By Meron Moges-Gerbi, CNN
(CNN) - On a rainy afternoon this spring when President Barack Obama gave the commencement speech at Morehouse College in Atlanta, he called valedictorian Betsegaw Tadele the “skinny guy with a funny name” – a nickname Obama has often called himself.
So, who is that other “skinny guy?”
Tadele’s journey to sharing a stage with the president began in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the youngest of Tadele Alemu and Almaz Ayalew’s two children. Tadele’s first name, Betsegaw, means "by God's grace" in Amharic, his native language.
In the summer of 2009, Tadele came to the United States in pursuit of a higher education.
Morehouse College, a historically black college, was not Tadele’s first choice; he was initially interested in more technical schools. Morehouse only awarded him enough scholarship funds to pay for tuition, not room and board. But Tadele’s brother happened to be living and working in Atlanta. Tadele saw this as an opportunity to spend time with his brother while taking advantage of what the university had to offer. Morehouse became his new destination.
After four years at Morehouse, Tadele had a 3.99 GPA. He graduated with a degree in computer science and a minor in mathematics. He won departmental awards in math and the school’s computer science leadership and scholarship award, led Morehouse’s Computer Science Club and is a member of Phi Beta Kappa.
"There is no impossible. There is no unbelievable. There is no unachievable, if you have the audacity to hope," Tadele said during his speech, paraphrasing the name of the president's 2006 book, "The Audacity of Hope."
President Obama and Betsegaw Tadele speak at the Morehouse graduation.
The next stop in Tadele’s journey is Seattle, where he'll work for Microsoft.
Here’s what Tadele had to say about meeting the president and finishing college:
CNN: First thing first, what was it like to meet President Obama?
Betsegaw Tadele: I didn’t really get to meet him except on stage. There were a lot of Secret Service (agents) around him. Many were suggesting I go and hug him, but I couldn’t do that. But it was great; after my speech, he got up gave me a hug and told me he was proud of me. That was a great honor.
CNN: What was the greatest part of being a Morehouse valedictorian?
Tadele: It was great to be able to mark that moment and summarize our journey at Morehouse. I wasn't nervous at all. I could feel the energy of the crowd, everyone was happy to be there. It was an honor to be able to acknowledge all these parents who sacrificed so much for their kids to be there. Acknowledging them and our hard work and the energy of that moment was unforgettable.
By Chris Boyette, CNN
(CNN) - An upstate New York student said he got a three-day suspension for creating a controversial Twitter hashtag encouraging discussion of the school district's failed budget.
Pat Brown, a senior at Cicero-North Syracuse High School, says he created #s**tCNSshouldcut to brainstorm ways his school could save money in response to voters on Tuesday rejecting a $144.7 million budget plan. The budget did not receive the 60% voter approval it needed.
Many students were concerned, Brown said, because the school board had warned that if a new budget was not eventually passed, they might have to eliminate athletic programs, other extra-curricular activities and introduce additional administrative cuts, including the elimination of some teacher positions.
The budget is up for a revote on June 18.
"Everyone on Twitter was talking about 'I can't believe the budget didn't pass' and so I created (the hashtag) as a joke, really," Brown told CNN on Friday.
(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.
(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.