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Alabama Public Television Young Heroes of 2011

Matthew Watts

Robertsdale, Alabama
Robertsdale High School

Matthew Watts is a senior at Robertsdale High School. Few would guess that three years ago, he could not read at all.

Matthew comes from a family that includes twelve siblings. His father suffered from a mental condition that manifested as severe issues of control. To complicate the situation more, the father was an alcoholic. He refused to allow any of his children to attend school. While Matthew’s mother worked to support the family, his father remained home with the isolated children and drank. Matthew’s mother finally found the courage and resources to take the children and leave her husband.

Free of oppression, Matthew’s mother enrolled him in the 9th grade at Robertsdale High School. Of course, Matthew could not read—having never attended school. His counselors and advisors were not certain of the best course of education for the young man. Fearing that he would not be able to pass the graduation exams, they put him on the occupational diploma track. Matthew was not to be underestimated, though.

Determined to catch up with his classmates, Matthew attended tutoring sessions every day. He carried home books from the library and practiced by reading them to his younger brothers and sisters. He worked his way through the Hardy Boys’ mysteries with such fascination that he began writing a mystery novel of his own. Matthew passed all of portions of the Alabama Graduate Exam, and he works twice as hard these days, pursing both the occupational diploma track and the regular diploma curriculum.

This trial was not to be Matthew’s only obstacle, though. Matthew has Friedreich’s ataxia, an inherited disease that causes progressive damage to the nervous system. Although condition had been diagnosed earlier, its progress began to affect Matthew physically when he was in the 10th grade, robbing of the ability to walk. Matthew began utilizing a wheelchair. He would not be stopped by this development.

His nominator, Amber Hawkins (counselor at the South Baldwin Center for Technology) wrote, “Matthew has adjusted tremendously to high school and is inspiring to be around. It is amazing to see his good attitude after everything he has been through in life. He inspires everyone around him to look at the glass as half-full rather than half-empty.”

Matthew aspires to enter the field of computer drafting. On his own time, he tutors adults seeking pursuing their GED (General Equivalency Diploma.) He is respected by teachers and peers alike. “Matthew has the most wonderful spirit of any student I have ever observed,” wrote his math teacher Melanie Baswell. “He is always pleasant to his peers. It is truly a joy to teach Matthew.”

For his perseverance and triumph in the face of extreme circumstances, Matthew is certainly worthy of being recognized as one of the Young Heroes of Alabama.

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