Adversity leads Senior High's Beck to graduation

2014-05-31T00:00:00Z 2014-05-31T23:56:07Z Adversity leads Senior High's Beck to graduationBy ROB ROGERS rrogers@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

Levi Beck has a plan. 

He's graduating from Senior High on Sunday, and already he's been accepted to Montana State University Billings for fall semester. Along with that, he's applied for a number of scholarships and grants and will soon learn which he's been awarded.

"My mom always put in my head: 'Get a good education, go to college,' " he said. 

So that's his plan.

"I'm going to make you proud," he said, repeating what he often tells his mom.

For Beck, getting to college has long been a plan laden with emotional weight. The Senior High senior has been an orphan since the eighth grade. 

He was finishing up at Riverside Middle School when his father got sick and doctors had trouble finding the cause. Eventually they discovered cancer, but it had spread so aggressively, there was little they could do. He died a week later. 

Levi's mom, on the other hand, had been sick for a while. Her health began to deteriorate that year and a month after Levi's father died, his mother passed away. 

"At first I was in a lot of shock," he said. 

He has three adult sisters, and together they worked their grief and pain.

"We kinda just helped each other out," he said. 

When he started school at Senior the following year, Beck kept a relatively low profile. He didn't share much of his trauma with school staff or many of his classmates, but he began to look for ways to help others. 

Beck's guidance counselor, MacKenzie Umemoto, was immediately impressed. 

They first met at the start of Beck's junior year. They sat in her office to talk about finishing school and what to he was going to do after graduation. 

"When I first had him (in my office) it was all business," she said. 

Never once did Beck bring up his personal circumstance — he was living with a friend — or what had happened to his parents. He wasn't looking for sympathy or for excuses to get by, she said. 

Through the course of the year, Umemoto and Beck got to know each other better, and Umemoto learned more about how Beck likes to deal with his grief. He played football all four years at Senior and basketball for two years. 

He also helps lead the school's student grief support group. 

"I just know how it feels," he said. 

Beck has found quiet ways to serve and help his classmates each year he's been at Senior. It's something in which he finds comfort, solace and real gratification. 

It's also allowed him to give back.

"There's a lot of people here that have helped me," he said. "Mrs. Umemoto, she's helped me so much."

Umemoto is one of Beck's staunchest supporters, and she's worked hard to get him through the college enrollment process and to help him apply for awards and scholarships. 

In one letter, she wrote, "Levi could have made the choice to let the loss of his parents consume him and put a chip on his shoulder. Instead, Levi took his circumstances and concentrated on what he had control over. Levi has accepted his situation and uses it as motivation not as an excuse."

Part of that motivation was making good on the advice his mom had given him before she died. None of Beck's sisters graduated from high school and both Beck and his mom had seen the difficulties that brought into their lives. 

He was going to go to college to honor his mom and to gain a better chance at life after high school than his sisters had. His acceptance to MSUB is as big a deal as his graduation from Senior. 

"Going to college is one of my biggest accomplishments," he said. 

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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