Rasheed Cromwell started high school determined to prove that the negative stereotypes of black teens are dead wrong.
"The media oftenportray youth as involved in something negative -- drugs or alcohol," says Rasheed. "I try my hardest to break that image."
To that end, the Havre de Grace senior has kept his grades to a 3.5 average and played soccer, basketball and ran on the track team. And during his senior year, the 17-year-old was elected senior class vice-president, captain of the forensics team, and president of his youth group at St. James African Methodist Episcopal Church in Havre deGrace.
"I was honored to have my peers choose me," says tall and soft-spoken Rasheed.
He also participates in community service volunteer work, such as visiting nursing homes, and works part-time at alocal pizzeria.
"I don't know what I would do if I didn't play sports and be involved in school activities," he says.
"I try my best to take advantage of all the activities I can. Everybody has the same amount of time, it's how you use it."
Not all of his peers share his view on life, he says. Rasheed worries about some of his friends, whom he believes don't make school work a priority.
"I talk to a lot of my friends about this. All the time I try to tell them anything could happen, and if they have a good education, they'll always have something to fall back on. You can't make sports the most important thing."
Both his priorities and his dedication come, in part, from his parents, Emil and Lelia Cromwell, says Rasheed.
His fatheris a special education teacher in Baltimore County, and his mother works as a pharmacist technician at Harford Memorial Hospital.
"We're all so busy, but they always had time to talk. They inspire me a lot," he says.
"For as long as I can remember, they've always supported me. When I went to junior high, my mom said I should get into asmany activities as possible and always try my best. And I tried."
He also credits his success to loyal friends, Havre de Grace High and teachers he "really likes working with."
And he credits his Christian faith and "a strong belief in God" to his optimistic outlook onlife. In one of the original oratory competitions he entered, the topic he chose was "Optimism, a way of life."
Working and studying and enjoying his teen years hasn't been easy, Rasheed acknowledges.
But he's seen "so many people before me working hard to get the opportunities we have today. It makes me work harder."
One of the goals Rasheed set for himself seemed simple enough: maintain a perfect attendance record all through high school.
"Some mornings I just didn't feel like getting up, but I just pressed on. And now, all the nights I stayed up doing homework, and all the mornings I got up after games when I didn't feel like it, are paying off."
Last week, he was awarded a $500 scholarship at the Al Cesky Scholar-Athlete Banquet and was one of two students chosen by his school to be honored for scholarship, athletic prowess and community activism.
He plans to study engineering next year at Morehouse College in Atlanta, the schoolattended by Martin Luther King Jr.
"I'm happy to graduate, but I'm sad to leave here," Rasheed says. "I've been here as the school improved during the last four years, and I really like it."
"But I feel good about high school. If I had the chance to do it again, I don't think I would change anything at all."