LILBURN, Ga. — This past Wednesday, 649 students crossed the stage, flipped their tassels, and graduated Parkview High School.
For Kaustov Chakrabarti, it was the end of a journey he wasn’t sure he’d complete.
“At one point I was actually thinking about dropping out of high school,” he told 11Alive’s Matt Pearl.
When Kaustov was 14, his father Satyam was diagnosed with brain cancer and died. A year later, his mother Kumkum was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. A year after that, she passed away too.
“It was one of the most devastating moments of my life,” Kaustov recalls. “I didn’t know what I was going to do. I was in depression, and I didn’t have anyone to talk to.”
At one point, because he could no longer live in his parents’ apartment, Kaustov became technically homeless. He couch-surfed with friends until he found a permanent home with his aunt and uncle.
“It was just a dark moment,” he said. “When you’ve lost everything and you don’t have anything … it’s pretty hard to talk about.”
At that moment, Kaustov says he strongly considered dropping out of school. But he didn’t. He stayed at Parkview, woke up at 3 a.m. every morning for two months to study, and picked up his grades.
Then he applied for a mentor.
Kaustov went through a group called Stand Up For Kids, which helps keep homeless teens in their original school. It’s in nine schools across Metro Atlanta: seven in Fulton County, one in Hall County, and Parkview in Gwinnett County.
The group paired Kaustov with a former pediatric RN and 50-year Girl Scout Deanna Simmons.
“It’s for kids who have lost parents or are homeless,” she said about Stand Up For Kids, “and I thought, ‘Parkview … how does Parkview have homeless kids?’”
Deanna learned Kaustov’s story. Then she shared hers.
“My mother died when I was 19,” she recalled. “I was in nursing school when she died of cancer. My classmates didn’t know how to talk to me about it – and I’m sure he experienced the same thing – they don’t know what to say. And it was really hard on me. I felt alone, and I’m sure he did too.”
Through their shared adversity, they connected. And Deanna kept showing up through his junior year, senior year, and finally his graduation. In a sea of 649, Kaustov crossed the stage with steps he more than earned. This fall he’ll attend the University of Georgia, where he plans to study to become a neurosurgeon.
But for now, he’s celebrating – and thanking an unlikely friend.
“She gave me meaning in my life,” Kaustov says. “I just want her to know that I will be successful, and she’s the reason behind it.”
Matt Pearl’s Untold Atlanta series tells the stories we don’t hear often enough: the stories of our communities and the people who make them special. If you know of a great untold story to share, follow Matt on Facebook or e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.