But a special needs student at Clovis West offered her classmates a lesson in strength.
The impact of 9/11 hit Brittany Tolbert harder than most students but she continues to overcome every obstacle in her life.
Clovis West seniors rehearsed their graduation walk, knowing the challenges of the past will prepare them for the future. No one knows that better than Brittany who was born with cerebral palsy. While she was finding her way in elementary school, terrorists attacked America.
Lt. Commander Vince Tolbert of the US Navy died at the Pentagon on 9/11. Brittany was just eight at the time her father was killed.
Brittany rehearsed her speech, telling students "I miss my dad so much."
Tolbert actually won the honor to address the seniors after a class vote. Besides her struggles with cerebral palsy and learning to cope without her dad, she also shared typical teenage struggles like missing her big sister who attends Georgetown.
Amanda Tolbert said, "Brittany has had so much adversity in her life and it's really easy for her to be an angry kid but she's not. She's eternal optimism and sunshine and happiness."
Amanda plans to be an intelligence analyst and perhaps work in the building named for their father at MacDill Air Force Base. While the Tolbert girls are becoming young adults, their mother has a battle of her own.
Brittany explained in her speech, "Last year my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer."
Shari Tolbert had no idea Brittany was crafting such a touching speech about her family and her father. She said, "She was always very worried about who was going to be in heaven in front of her and so right after he died I said to her, Brittany you don't have to worry about that anymore. Daddy's in heaven to take care of you if you have to go there ahead of mommy and mommy's here. You have the best of both worlds."
Principal Eimear O'Farrell will challenge all of her seniors to defy the odds on Thursday. But not even a broken leg suffered during her senior year can keep Brittany's spirits down. "If I can make it through all these obstacles and commit to excellence I know the rest of our graduating class can too."