Published: May 7, 2014
This is the seventeenth of 20 profiles about The Gazette's Best and Brightest Class of 2014.
Because her father has been in prison since she was a toddler, Daiszha Cooley had a decision to make.
"I could let his absence be an excuse to make poor decisions or I could let his absence motivate me to not make the same mistakes," 17-year-old Cooley said.
Her mother raised Cooley and her sister, providing so much that Cooley says she never felt a void from having one parent.
"She's more than my mom. She's also a friend, a companion and like a sister," Cooley said. "We're very close. She's molded me to be responsible."
It was her mom who nudged her to work on having a better relationship with her paternal family.
"My maternal family provided a fulfilling life, so it never crossed my mind that the wall I constructed between my paternal family and I sprouted from deeply-rooted resentment and bitterness toward my father's decisions," she said. "Stubbornly, I denied that I wrongly forged that wall."
Cooley decided last year to make an effort with her paternal grandmother. Normally at her grandma's house she would sit quietly unless spoken to. But this day was different.
"I conversed politely with my grandmother about her new work schedule and her decision to get a second bachelor's degree. I even asked her questions to gain more insight," Cooley said.
"As trivial as it seems, having a conversation with anyone from my paternal side of the family - without aggravation - was foreign. A simple conversation morphed into a form of forgiveness."
Now, Cooley texts her grandmother to check on her.
"She's been more involved with what I do," Cooley said. "She's coming to my graduation. A year ago, I wouldn't have wanted her to come, but now I do."
Colleen McElvogue, Coronado's High School counselor, says Cooley motivates, challenges and inspires her to be a better counselor.
"She has invested so much in herself, her goals and her future. And she has done all of these things in the face of adversity," McElvogue said. "She has a wonderful, loving mother in her corner who has taught Daiszha to fight through and never give up."