This past week was a tough one at Fort Mill High School - days lost to the icy weather and a rush to make up exams. Friday was especially tough. Students took two or three final tests in one day. The new semester beings Monday.
It wasn't tough for Beritz Sterling Desravines. Beritz, who is in the 11th grade, can deal with a little adversity.
Snow was not such a big deal.
"I went sledding for the first time," she said. "I did not like it."
She dealt with final exams crammed into her schedule. She smiled through it all.
A year ago on Jan. 12, 2010 in Haiti, six minutes after Beritz walked out of the building, an earthquake destroyed her high school outside the Haitian capital. At least 230,000 people were killed, including her teachers and classmates.
Her uncle and aunt, Anthony and Monique Desravines of Fort Mill, who left Haiti more than 30 years ago, brought her to America. The adoption was already underway at the time of the earthquake. Beritz arrived in Fort Mill with barely any English skills and no friends. She started at Fort Mill High the very next day. Tiny, and alone.
"'Bonjour' was all I could say to her," said Dee Christopher, the principal at Fort Mill. "I knew that meant good morning. And I meant it. I wanted her to be welcome here."
Fort Mill High threw its collective arms around Beritz. When she arrived, the school's in-house TV show told the students to look for her. They might have missed her, though: She's about 5 feet 2, maybe, around 90 pounds.
Her smile cannot be missed.
Beritz's smile stands out even in a school of more than 1,500 students.
By the end of the first semester, taking classes that included English as a second language, Beritz was on the honor roll.
This past semester, she took her last semester of English as a second language, algebra, biology, and health science.
"Just like the rest of the students here," said Beritz. "I like school here because each day, you learn something."
In algebra, Beritz "never gives up," said teacher Brad Mercer. "She has tremendous work ethic. Other students could learn about trying so hard from her - that's for sure."
Beritz has found friends with her infectious smile, even though she is as shy as anybody might expect of someone who came from a ruined country under such difficult circumstances. She carries a heavy book bag from class to class like all the other students and has to hustle to beat the bell like all kids.
When she arrived in algebra class, the greeting came out: "Beritz!"
She tried to hide, shy, but that smile stood out.
Beritz's English has improved dramatically during the year, too.
"No problem as far as understanding her," said friend Jaclin Heidel in health class. "I have an accent myself - a Southern accent."
Beritz hopes to be a doctor. The acclimation to America, and the American school where she is the sole Haitian, has been steady and the school supportive, said Anthony Desravines, her uncle. Only the formal adoption is lacking.
"Beritz takes her studies very seriously," he said. "We are very proud of her."
Friday afternoon was the last day of health science technology class. The teacher, Cathy Priddy, said Beritz did all the work assigned, hustled to make sure research papers were done, even sought out extra help.
"She was great," Priddy said.
That's when Beritz showed she is different. At the end of the last class of the semester - when Beritz would no longer have Cathy Priddy as her teacher - Beritz Desravines cried as she thanked Priddy for what she taught.
"Thank you for understanding me, for taking time," Beritz told Priddy. "I will always remember you."
The two embraced. The teacher and the student, who, one year ago, had no school, no home and an uncertain future.
Priddy had one last thing to say. She had graded the final exams by the end of class.
"Beritz, you earned an 'A.'" Priddy said.