ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - Thousands of students who evacuated Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria devastated the island last September enrolled in schools across Central Florida.
One of those displaced students is 18-year-old Felipe Lopez. He graduated this week from Cypress Creek High School.
"It was hard. It was hard," Lopez said.
Lopez said he can't believe how far he has come over the past seven months. The senior made the tough decision to leave his family and home behind in Puerto Rico and moved in with his uncle in October.
He said he knew he had to leave so he could continue his education.
"I had to realize that I am doing this for my future. That I have to put my emotional feelings a part and concentrate on what I came here to study, to finish my high school years," Lopez said.
Lopez said one of his biggest challenges was speaking and learning in English. He was worried he wouldn't do well in school.
"My biggest fear was to not pass all the state tests, to fail in class," he said.
But thanks to his family's support from afar and the new family he gained at Cypress Creek High School, Lopez passed all the state tests and graduated this week.
He said he's grateful to all the people who helped him achieve this major accomplishment.
"Thank you to everyone who helped me during this journey," Lopez said.
One of the people who helped him was Assistant Principal Ben Alvarado.
"It was mission accomplish for our entire school, for our counselors, for our teachers, to say that the efforts we put forth worked," Alvarado said. "To hear these stories of where they're going in school, that they're staying here, that they want to stay here and really pursue higher education."
The sky is the limit for Lopez. He now has his sights set on Embry Riddle Aeronautical University. He was accepted into the Daytona Beach university and will study aeronautical science.
He said he is fulfilling his childhood dream to become a pilot.
"Since I was 5 years old that was my main goal," Lopez said.
Lopez adds despite the journey it took for him to get here, he said he wouldn't change anything.
"It was hard, but I accomplished my goals. I graduated from high school, from 12th grade. It feels great. It feels wonderful," he said.
Lopez said he will spend the summer months in Puerto Rico with his family and friends. He will return to Central Florida in time for the fall semester to start in August.
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