2 Chapel Hill graduates receive Dream Big awards

Published on Tuesday, 17 June 2014 00:18 - Written by BY EMILY GUEVARA, eguevara@tylerpaper.com

Chapel Hill High School, with the help of two area businesses, recognized two of this year’s graduates with its Dream Big Award for 2014.

Caleb Bragg, 18, and Joel Gaona, 19, are this year’s recipients. The award recognizes students who have overcome obstacles on the road to accomplishing their dreams.

Wal-Mart and Brookshire’s sponsored one award each, presenting a plaque to their respective student recipient.

Gaona has faced challenges associated with spina bifida, a birth defect that occurs when a baby is in the womb and the spinal column does not close all the way, according to the Spina Bifida Association website.

The type of spina bifida determines how serious the problems are for the person. Some people can have little to no damage to their nerves while others can have muscle weakness, possible paralysis, and orthopedic problems such as deformed feet, uneven hips and a curved spine (scoliosis), according to the Mayo Clinic website.

Gaona said academics have been challenging for him. But what he enjoys the most is art, such as drawing.

After high school, he plans to pursue a job and said he is excited about receiving the Dream Big Award. 

Bragg has been a standout high school student playing football, baseball, soccer and doing powerlifting. Outside of athletics, he also was a Crimestoppers board member and performed community service by helping at the community health fairs at Sharon Baptist Church in Arp. After high school, he plans to attend Luminant Academy and study power plant technology. 

But his childhood was not without heartache.

When Bragg was in elementary school, one of his older brothers made a bad choice and was sentenced to 25 years in prison for his offense.

Because the crime was an aggravated offense, his brother had to serve at least half the time before he was eligible for parole, said Bragg, who was 5 or 6 at the time.

“It really changes your perspective on inmates because he’s not a bad person,” Bragg said. “It gives you forgiveness for people that have made mistakes.”

The situation not only changed Bragg’s perspective, but it also motivated him. During the 13 years his brother spent in prison, Bragg received letters from him and spoke with him during periodic visits. In those letters, his brother encouraged Bragg to do what was right and do everything to the fullest. 

Bragg’s brother set an example for him as well. While incarcerated, he earned a bachelor’s degree, which was one of his goals.

He also achieved another goal when he was released from prison in April in time to see his brother graduate. Bragg described that as awesome.

As far as the Dream Big Award, he said the night before he received the award, he applied to work for Brookshire’s, the company that sponsored his award.

“I was very very excited about it,” he said.