Robert E. Lee High School senior Venisha Harmon found success through hard work, determination and a whole lot of heavy lifting.
For the past four years, her days have begun before the sun comes up. Harmon spent many mornings alone in the weight room, well before her classmates got to campus.
"It's refreshing. I have to come up here with the right mindset," she said. "Who gets up at 6 a.m. just to slam weights?"
Harmon has the honor of being the school's first female power lifter, but she is much more than that.
She also is a scholar, earning more than $30,000 in scholarships she will put to use at The University of Texas at Dallas. She is a mentor, using her difficult childhood to help show younger students they can succeed. The accolade Harmon is most proud of is her National Honor Society Storytellers award.
"Those experiences made me who I am today," she said. "I really appreciate the NHS allowing me to empower younger kids by telling my story."
During a luncheon Tuesday, Harmon was named the 2017 Earl Campbell Tyler Rose Award Scholarship recipient.
Harmon also is a leader, acting as the de facto captain of the girls power lifting squad, which now has four members. With her encouragement, her teammates pushed themselves every day.
"That first meet took a lot of courage. I was frightened. Everyone was bigger than me. I've never felt like a little crumb," she said. "It was a little shaky. I didn't come out with the winning medal, but I came out with confidence and knew I could do it."
Soon, Harmon began climbing through the ranks. She went from eighth to third and then, finally, clinched a first place.
"It was heaven," she said of the win.
Overall, Harmon collected 12 medals with five first place wins.
At the end of her morning workouts, Harmon racks her weights and picks up the books. She is one of only 14 students at Lee participating in the International Baccalaureate program.
Through the program, she has excelled academically and made lifelong friends.
"You're placed in a setting with your peers who are just as motivated as you are, just as smart, just as determined," she said. "They are my family forever. These are the people I like to refer to as my brothers and sisters from other races and ethnicities."
Lee Principal Dan Crawford said Harmon is not only a model student but also a great role model. While at Lee, Harmon has encouraged her fellow IB students to volunteer through the Rotary Club to obtain community service hours. As a result, participation has skyrocketed.
"She has been an inspiration to me all year," he said. "She's just a very diverse young lady. She's well rounded and has a bright future ahead of her."
Harmon already is looking toward that future. At UT Dallas, she will major in public relations before applying to law school.
"Leaving is bittersweet, I must say," she said. "I'm excited and ready to get on up out of here, but I will miss my teachers."
As she walks across the stage Friday, Harmon can take comfort in knowing she has made a lasting impact on campus.
Given the weather forecast for the coming days, Tyler ISD has made contingency plans for its outdoor graduation ceremonies.
If all goes according to plan, ceremonies will be as follows:
Robert E. Lee High School Graduation, 7:30 p.m. Friday, June 2
John Tyler High School Graduation, 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 3
If Lee's Friday ceremony is canceled, the backup options in order are:
10 a.m. Saturday, June 3
2 p.m. Saturday, June 3
4 p.m. Saturday, June 3
If inclement weather prevents Lee and John Tyler graduations from happening Friday and Saturday, the district will attempt to have the ceremonies Sunday at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Rose Stadium.
If one ceremony is required Sunday, it will be at 2 p.m.
If both ceremonies are required Sunday, Lee's will be at 2 p.m. followed by JT's at 6 p.m.
If inclement weather makes one or both Sunday ceremonies at Rose Stadium impossible, Tyler Junior College's Wagstaff Gymnasium is the backup location.
The district will make any decision to move graduation to Wagstaff Gym by 8 a.m. Sunday. Admittance to the gym would be by ticket only.
Changes to the graduation plans will be communicated via the media, TISD-TV, the Blackboard Connect phone messaging system, Facebook, Twitter and the district's website.
-- Emily Guevara