Society

Teen from Sandy-Ravaged Housing Project Graduates Valedictorian of Brooklyn Class

| by Sarah Fruchtnicht
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A teen from Brooklyn is graduating at the top of his class next month despite caring for a sick mother, younger brother, and 14 nieces and nephews.

Luis Hernandez’s Red Hook housing project suffered extensive damage after Hurricane Sandy. Living without power, hot water and heat for weeks, Hernandez, 18, still managed to earn a full scholarship to the University of Southern California.

Hernandez finished with the highest grade point average of any senior at the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies since the school’s first class graduated in 2009. He also became one of five recipients of the $5,000 Bryan Cave LLP Edward I. Koch Scholarship.

“I don’t have words to say how proud I am of him. He’s accomplished so much,” said his mother, Frances Velez. “He’s a loving son. He’s been there for me — especially in my sickness. He’s the type of person that if you need him, he’s there.”

He hasn’t decided on a major, but Hernandez has an interest in film and storytelling.

Last year, the teen starred in an autobiographical film called “The Tale of Jimmy Two Chins.” Hernandez began his freshman year at 300 pounds and lost at least 50 pounds through hard work and determination.

The movie premiered on Showtime and will be screened at the Hoboken International Film Festival next week.

Hernandez is the first of his family to enroll in college. He’s never even seen USC’s Los Angeles campus.

Until last year, Hernandez had never been on a plane. Then he spent the summer in South Africa doing community service.

“Kids in Red Hook don’t have belief in themselves. When I first told them that I wanted to go to college, they said, ‘Yo, you’re from Red Hook. You live here, you die here,’” he said.

“Those kind of things motivated me to take my first steps past the BQE.”

Source: NY Post