Halfway through his senior year, Christian Donaldson was in danger of not graduating.
A challenging family situation had uprooted the Robert E. Lee High School student from his house, left him without parental support and required him, in large part, to support himself financially.
When Donaldson, 17, walked into his high school counselor Lynn Russell’s office in December, she saw a student who was very upset and highly stressed out. And she helped him.
Using available Tyler ISD resources as well as making sure Donaldson made up his absences by staying late, working during lunch and going to school on Saturday, she helped him see the possibility of high school graduation.
His grades improved, slowly at first, then more quickly as he caught up with schoolwork, Ms. Russell said.
Her help combined with Donaldson’s perseverance and the support of his brother and his brother’s girlfriend enabled him to finish high school and graduate with his class on Saturday.
“I’m just glad I finally made it through, and I can finally do what I originally wanted to do in life, which is cooking,” said Donaldson, who plans to attend the Auguste Escoffier School of Culinary Arts in Austin.
For as long as Donaldson can remember, he’s wanted to cook. He tells a story of when he was young — possibly preschool age — and his older brother tried to cook breakfast food for dinner. As Donaldson remembers it, his brother smoked out the whole house, but Donaldson ate the food. And he knew from that point on he wanted to cook.
When he was in elementary school, his stepgrandmother gave him a cookbook.
“I just went to town with it,” he said.
Whatever ingredients he could find in the house, he used and made something with them.
In middle school, he took home economics where he learned more about cooking.
In high school, he took classes in culinary arts. He said culinary arts instructor Leslie Rasco taught him how to clean up as he cooks, how to cook for a large number of people and how to develop his taste so he can know how to improve a dish by tasting it.
What Donaldson likes about cooking is the ability to make food taste delicious and see the happiness on people’s faces because they enjoyed it, he said.
His ultimate goal is to open his own business, likely a buffet-style restaurant where he would change the menu weekly.
He will continue working toward this goal when he starts culinary school this fall.
Through the 10-month program at Auguste Escoffier, he hopes to learn all he can so that when he comes out he can start his career.
Grants and other financial aid will help fund his schooling. However, he also plans to work to support himself while he is there.
Donaldson said the motivation that helped him get through the tough times was his desire to improve his life.
“I don’t want to have to borrow money,” he said. “I really just want to get away from it all. I want to better myself, better my brother.”
He said his brother has done so much for him and he never will be able to repay him. In addition, he said his brother’s girlfriend also has helped him.
Ms. Russell said to see the change in Donaldson from a young man who was stressed out, frustrated and uncertain whether he was going to finish high school to someone who is planning for his future was a gratifying experience.
“That was one of the highlights of my career,” she said.