Education was not exactly a priority in Kristen Kavli's family when she was growing up. Neither of her parents attended college, and her father didn't graduate from high school. He was in and out of jail. And she realized she had different goals for herself. She wanted a different life.
"I just have goals to be different … to live a life that is great and fun and successful in ways that my family isn't," the 18-year-old Chapel Hill High School senior said.
She wants to continue her education and do things that will make her happy. She said those desires have grown in her throughout her life.
In eighth grade, she started taking photos. And in the 10th grade, she met Jessica Otte, who taught AP English and yearbook.
While a student in Ms. Otte's English class, Miss Kavli volunteered to help with the yearbook. She officially became a part of the staff her junior year.
"This year, she's my editor," Ms. Otte said. "She's helping to make sure these kids know what's expected next year."
Miss Kavli is one of four Chapel Hill High School students, three of them seniors, who received the school's Dream Big Award this year.
The award recognizes students who have overcome obstacles on the road to accomplishing their dreams.
The other recipients are senior Cassi Coffey, sophomore Kristafer Davis, and senior Mason Miller.
Miss Kavli plans to major in photography at Texas A&M University-Commerce and after that would like to open her own photography studio or photograph sports or mission work. She advised underclassmen not to limit themselves.
Her faith has really been the anchor of her life particularly the idea that God has a plan for her and that her future is far greater than anything she can imagine, she said.
"Sometimes in society, we have limits set for ourselves (such as) we can only do this because of our background," she said. She urged students "to continue to strive because whatever you set your mind to, you can achieve it if you want. You control the destiny of your life. You can do what you want if you put your mind to it."
J.J. Holman, Chapel Hill High School's assistant principal of student services, said she started the Dream Big Award four years ago when she came to the school.
The principal at the time had "Dream Big" as his motto, and Mrs. Holman felt like the school needed an award to go with the motto.
She involved area companies in the process and the companies present the awards and also potentially provide mentorship and other opportunities to the students.
This year's company participants were Brookshire's, Villa Montez and Walmart.
"I really feel like without dreams, why are we here?" Mrs. Holman said. "Kids have to have passion; otherwise they're just going through the motions. We're trying to develop that."
Cassi Coffey's own trials have very much shaped her future goals. The 18-year-old senior plans to attend Baylor University to double major in business and psychology and minor in public relations and leadership.
She wants to earn a doctorate in psychology. open up her own counseling practice and participate in international mission trips using her counseling.
"My brother and I both had a whole lot of hardships and adversity growing up," she said. "I wanted to show people that you can overcome hardships and adversity and come … out on top."
Miss Coffey was 2 when her father left the family because of drug addiction. He had been a contractor, and the family's financial security was very much tied to his business.
So, when her parents divorced, her mother, who lacked a high school diploma and had many health issues, struggled to find jobs.
She wrote hot checks to pay bills and was in and out of jail because of that. The first time she went to jail, Miss Coffey was in the second grade.
Even when she got out, the home environment wasn't very stable, Miss Coffey said. Eventually, she decided to move out and has lived with several relatives and friends over the years.
She said it was watching her parents and the pain that drugs caused her family that made her choose a different path.
"I saw everything I was having to go through and my mom because of (my father's) choice to do drugs," she said.
She said her faith has kept her strong and walking forward. In the eighth grade, she started attending church with a friend and said when she realized that despite her sin nature, she was going to be OK it changed her life.
"It's not that it makes me feel better about my sin," she said. "It's just that it makes me know there's still hope …"
She attends Friendly Baptist Church and plans to go on a mission trip this summer.
Miss Coffey said she has learned to appreciate her trials. Without these challenges, she wouldn't have had the opportunities she has had or earned as many scholarships. Her advice to underclassmen is don't get comfortable.
"If I was ever comfortable in any situation I was in, I wouldn't have been able to reach and go forward," she said.
Science teacher Zelia McGaha nominated her for the award.
Sophomore Kristafer Davis, 17, has no problem sharing his goals for the future.
"One of my biggest dreams is just to make it all the way through college and play football and basketball as much as I can," he said.
An active athlete, he plays defensive end in football, post in basketball and runs track including the 110-meter hurdles, 300-meter hurdles and the long jump. He also plays trombone in the band.
He wants to become a firefighter because he has had a lot of family members work in public service.
Academics can be hard at times especially math, but his teachers are supportive, which helps him in his work, Davis said.
One of those teachers is Debbie Walton who instructs students in culinary arts and manages the school restaurant. She nominated Davis for this award.
Mrs. Holman said Davis was not always engaged in the academic part of school. So his teachers thought about how they could help him to be more engaged in English and reading and decided to use the new culinary arts class as a tool.
He has become a leader in the class and someone Ms. Walton encourages other students to look up to and emulate, Mrs. Holman said.
Throughout high school, senior Mason Miller, 18, wasn't always involved. However, about two years ago, some of his teachers encouraged him to participate in UIL Academics.
His mother, Julie Miller, said he has competed in social studies for two years and current events for one year and has found much success.
Last year, he won first place in social studies at the district competition. This year, he won second place at district in social studies and current events and third place at regionals and state in current events.
"He is very much into history, and he just has an exceptional memory for those kinds of (things), for facts and details," Ms. Miller said. "He's a very avid reader. He will read anything."
His mother said it was some of his teachers who suggested he get involved in UIL Academics. Annie Roberson, his government/economics teacher, nominated him for this award.
His high school accomplishments include being a part of the National Honor Society, being a Distinguished Graduate and being in the top 10 percent of his graduating class.
Mrs. Holman said being in the top 10 percent of his class was one of Miller's goals and he moved up in the ranks to get there.
Miller plans to attend The University of Texas at Tyler and is undecided on a major though he is considering history and business.