It was a special moment for Rachel Jeantel when she crossed the stage to receive her high school diploma — a moment to remember her slain friend, Trayvon Martin, and to celebrate an academic victory.
Jeantel was on the phone with Trayvon when he was shot to death in 2012. Since then, she has been determined to fulfill the promise she made to her friend to finish school.
During the trial, the daughter of immigrant parents had difficulties with her English. The teen speaks Haitian Creole, English and Spanish, and her dialect and use of Creole slang were made fun of during her testimony.
At one point during the trial, defense attorney Don West questioned whether Jeantel understood English.
“Are you claiming in any way that you don’t understand English?” West asked Jeantel.
"I don't understand you. I do understand English," Jeantel said.
Finishing high school was a challenge for the young woman.
As a senior in high school, it was determined Jeantel only had an elementary-level understanding of reading and math. Miami defense and civil rights attorney Rod Vereen arranged for tutors and psychologists for the young woman to help her graduate.
“When they say it takes a village to raise a child, this is what has happened here,” said Vereen.
“Getting her down that aisle has not been an easy task," he continued. "Rachel is just like any other teenager. They want to buck the system sometimes, and you just can’t let them buck the system.”
"I did it," Jeantel exclaimed after the graduation. "The witness who didn't know how to speak English knows how to speak English through the 12th grade now. I never quit."
Martin's mother, Sybrina Fulton, attended the graduation ceremony to cheer on her son's friend.
"Her coming is like having Trayvon there saying, 'You did it. You proved people wrong,' " Jeantel said.
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