Pair of Bonneville High School students overcame obstacles

Editor’s Note: This is the fifth of eight articles previewing soon-to-be graduates from the Post Register’s coverage area.

More than 250 students will graduate from Bonneville High School on June 3.

The 7 p.m. ceremony will take place at Thunder Stadium. The following are profiles of two graduating seniors handpicked by school administrators.

Charlyn Hess

Charlyn Hess has been beating the odds since the day she was born.

“When I was born, my head was bigger than it was supposed to be. I was born with hydrocephalus, fluid wasn’t draining out of my brain. The doctors told my mom I wouldn’t ever be able to walk or talk or anything like that.”

Shortly after she was born, Hess underwent the first of three brain surgeries and had a shunt put into her head to help drain the fluids. Defying the doctors’ prognosis, she was walking by the time she was 3.

“I’ve had to have a lot of surgeries that have caused me to miss school,” Hess said. “I think at one point I missed an entire month of school.”

One of those surgeries came in 10th grade, when her spinal fluid wasn’t draining properly. A month later, she was back in the hospital. Her surgical wounds became infected and another surgery was required.

“I missed so much school in 10th grade, I got to where I just thought, ‘What’s the point of trying?’” Hess said. “But, I somehow pulled through and passed all my classes. That motivated me and kind of showed me, ‘I can do this.’”

School counselor Jared Smith said Hess has grown a lot through the challenges she’s faced.

“Charlyn has gone through some hard times, but she has handled everything that’s been thrown at her,” Smith said. “When you talk to her, you can really see she understands what’s important. She really gets it.”

The surgery left Hess with a shaved head. At first she wore wigs, but eventually she embraced her new look.

“After a while, I started just rocking the shaved-hair look,” Hess said. “I’d attach little stars and other stuff on my head. I turned it into a fashion statement. I had people telling me, ‘Oh, you look good, you’re rocking that look, girl.’”

After graduation, Hess plans on finding a job and looking into classes at Eastern Idaho Technical College.

“I’d like to do something medical related, maybe go to med school, eventually,” Hess said. “I’m looking into financial stuff and figuring out where I’ll go from here. I think I’ll stay around here for now, though.”

Westen Singleton

During the summer of 2013, Westen Singleton moved to Idaho Falls from Oakland, Calif.

He was looking for a fresh start. A few months later, he was homeless and living out of his car. Today, Singleton is getting ready to graduate from Bonneville High School.

“At first I was living with my brother, but he kicked me out because his girlfriend didn’t like me being there,” Singleton said.

He ended up moving in with his aunt and uncle, but that didn’t work out either.

“.. So I just ended up moving out,” he said. “I ended up living in my car for about two weeks.”

During that time, Singleton said school wasn’t his top priority. But soon, he was working with his teachers and school counselor to get caught up in his class work. He moved in with his girlfriend’s family.

“Westen came to us and asked for help,” counselor Virginia Armstrong said. “He was willing to reach out and let us know what was going on. We’ve worked with him a lot and saw that he has the desire to succeed.”

Armstrong said Singleton isn’t someone who looks for excuses.

“On top of his schoolwork, Westen has had to worry about things many of us never even think about,” Armstrong said. “Many kids in his situation drop out. They just can’t do it, but Westen is tenacious. The fact that he stayed in school really says a lot about the kind of person he is.”

Although he was homeless for a time, Singleton was working and able to buy food.

“I had a job, so I had some money, which was good,” Singleton said. “The hardest part was being cold. It was during the winter and the heater in my car was broken. So, I was pretty cold a lot of the time.”

After graduation, Singleton plans to continue his education at Eastern Idaho Technical College.

“I want to go to EITC and learn collision repair,” he said. “Then I’ll just get a job. Eventually, I’d like to move somewhere warmer, like Arizona.”