From homelessness to school valedictorian. NY1's Clodagh McGowan reports on a high school senior in Queens who has overcome so many challenges, part of our series, 'Extraordinary Graduates."
To say Amarfi Collado has overcome obstacles to make it to the head of the class is an understatement.
"Sometimes, the harder experience can either break you or make you," Collado says.
In her case, it made her this year's valedictorian at Pan American International High School in Elmhurst, Queens.
The school teaches students who recently immigrated from Latin America and are learning English.
Collado moved to Queens from the Dominican Republic about four years ago, only knowing the basics of the English language.
"In this school I have learned English. And it has helped me a lot, this school," she says.
But learning the language isn't the only thing that's helped.
An afterschool dance class has turned the once quiet wallflower into a show-stopper.
"Before, I was not confident about myself and what I can accomplish. Through dance I learned that even if you don't understand something in the beginning, you don't have to get frustrated."
"She's definitely not the quiet girl I once knew," says Katie Oliver, Collado's dance teacher. "She is much more confident, much more sure of herself."
Collado found a confidant in Oliver. When the teenager's family was forced to move into a homeless shelter last year, her teacher became her support system.
"She came out of it with such grace and such strength. It's really admirable," Oliver says.
"When I need to cry, she's there for me, to give me advice, always positive advice," says Collado. "And she's just a person that's like my second mom."
Collado's family, both immediate and surrogate, will be cheering her on at graduation later this month.
She was awarded three college scholarships but chose to enroll at St. Joseph's in Brooklyn, in a special program for high-achieving students who have overcome hardships. It's there she plans to study law.
"It just makes me feel happy to help people," Collado says.
She says most importantly, she wants to help her family and achieve their version of the American dream.