2006 Westenley Alcenat

Westenley Alcenat's fellow Southwest High School students call him the "kid who always smiles." However, his constant optimism and infectious grin belie a past where he "grew accustomed to seeing dead bodies, and hearing rapes from the neighbor's door."

Westenley grew up in Haiti, where violence and political unrest turned playgrounds into battlefields and his childhood into a series of unimaginable horrors. At age 6, soldiers killed his parents. His grandparents raised, protected, and comforted him and finally sought to give him a less chaotic life in the United States. While awaiting clearance of his visa, Westenley was left behind with distant relatives. For four years he waited, crying every day, not understanding why he was alone. Finally, he was cleared to enter the United States and reunited with his grandparents and other family members. Westenley recently became a citizen.

Westenley attends Southwest High School, greeting each day with enthusiasm. Although his family has very little, he feels fortunate to be receiving an education and opportunities in the United States that he wants to repay by helping others. Writing poetry gives him the freedom to pour out his feelings about his past, his hopes for the future, and his views on society. He volunteers at hospitals and schools working with immigrant and inner city kids. Westenley challenges himself with rigorous courses and maintains a 3.2 GPA. He wishes to attend Macalester College, graduate school, and pursue a career in health care. His ultimate goal is to return to Haiti, or travel to Africa, to share his smile and help others to succeed.