There were times when Lexi Perez was caring for her dying mother and her two younger sisters that she was sure she would never graduate from high school. After all, no one in her immediate family had graduated, and she had dropped out several times.
But this spring, Perez will accept her diploma from Barker High School after using the school’s independent study program to finish high school only a year later than scheduled.
Perez’s mother died last summer from complications of the staph infection MRSA. Perez was 18 and was given custody of her 15-year-old sister. They all moved from Illinois to Spokane in August to live with the father of her 14-year-old sister. “We didn’t want to be separated,” she said.
Perez said she wants to set a positive example for her sisters. “I’ve had to grow up for my sisters,” she said. “It does get hard, but I stay strong for my sisters. I want them to do better than me.”
Her mother first got sick when Perez was 15. As her illness got worse, Perez dropped out of school her sophomore year. She went back at the start of her junior year after a friend moved in to help take care of her mother, but she soon left again.
“When she got sick I took it upon myself to take care of her and make sure the family stayed together,” Perez said.
Despite her efforts, her two younger siblings spent several months in foster care. Her mother regained custody of them only two weeks before she died. “That was really hard on my mom,” Perez said. “She did everything for us. We were her whole life.”
Perez, who had power of attorney for health care decisions, had to decide whether or not to remove her mother from life support after she had a brain hemorrhage.
“Ultimately the choice was up to me,” she said. “I had to decide to let her go.”
She has struggled with trying to fill the roles of mother and sister. Perez and her sister get along well, but it’s hard to be a disciplinarian.
“We still cuss each other out,” she said. “We still fight over the bathroom. I’ll tell her she’s grounded and she looks at me and says, ‘You know that’s not going to stick.’ ”
She has been taking dental assistant classes through the NEWTECH Skills Center and plans to attend Spokane Community College in the fall and get a job in a dental office.
Perez is proud of the hard work she’s done to get her diploma. “I could be that kid that isn’t going to school,” she said. “I’ve decided to turn this experience around into a positive.”
She also knows that her mother would be pleased by her accomplishment.
“One of the last things my mom told me, about a week before she passed away, was that she was proud of me,” Perez said. “She always told me she wanted me to graduate and finish school.”