Exceptional Graduates: Brooklyn Teen Turns Challenges into Environmental Activism, Acceptance Into Cornell

We're highlighting exceptional students this month as high school wraps up and graduation celebrations are underway. Brooklyn reporter Jeanine Ramirez tells us about the daughter of immigrants who is headed to the Ivy League.

Lizbeth Lucero, a Red Hook teenager, is a student leader, basketball team captain, and valedictorian at Brooklyn Collaborative High School.

For Lizbeth, her valedictorian speech was a remarkable finish after a humble start.

Her parents emigrated from Mexico to New York with little money. One of five children, she lives with her family in the Red Hook Houses, crossing over the Gowanus Expressway to get to school in Carroll Gardens.

One reason for her success: being a student athlete.

"It's hard to manage both, but it's possible," Lizbeth said. "It's so much fun, it helps you time manage, it gives you motivation, and it pushes you to success."

Living through Hurricane Sandy helped ignite Lizbeth's passion for social and environmental justice.

Her family rode out the storm in their apartment, going without water, heat, and electricity for more than two weeks.

Lizbeth became an activist with the Alliance for Climate Education, attended a national climate change conference, and was featured in a student-produced documentary on the hurricane.

School officials say they're proud of all her achievements.

"She honestly exemplifies all of our core values, so she's just consistently been kind and humble and courageous throughout this whole process," Brooklyn Collaborative High School Principal Scill Chan said. "So there could not have been a more deserving student."

Lizbeth's mom has only a middle school education, and does not speak English. Lucero is set to attend Cornell University in the fall, the Ivy League.

"One of the things that's really powerful for us at Brooklyn Collaborative is that Lizbeth is the third student in the past four years that we've had that we've had who has gone to Cornell," college counselor Joshua Steckel said.

Lizbeth says she's aware of the challenges ahead and keeps her mother's words as inspiration. 

"She just wants me to keep going," Lizbeth said about her mother. "She would say, 'Sigue luchando.'"

Which means to keep fighting.

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