Fortis Graduates Rewrite Their Narratives with Caps and Gowns

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June 1, 2023 by HCDE Communications

As Fortis Academy seniors clad in caps and gowns paraded across the stage on May 26, they were met with applause and praise from family, friends, and Harris County Department of Education leaders.

Click here to view a photo gallery.

“We are very excited for our graduates,” said Fortis Academy Principal Travita Godfrey. “Many of our students have made plans after graduation, including attending college and enlisting in the military.”

Rebeca Santiesteban, left, and Fortis Academy Principal Travita Godfrey pose for a photograph.

Seven seniors gathered for the symbolic graduation ceremony, including Rebeca Santiesteban, a 19-year-old who has faced challenges related to substance abuse for nearly five years.

Two years ago, Santiesteban was referred to Fortis Academy from the Spring Independent School District after her addiction became a concern for school counselors and her family.

At Fortis, Harris County’s first public high school for students recovering from alcohol and substance abuse, Santiesteban found a safe haven.

The school’s low student-to-teacher ratio and on-campus licensed chemical dependency counselors enabled her to overcome obstacles to sobriety and academic achievement.

Santiesteban also formed meaningful relationships with faculty and staff committed to her recovery.

Within months of enrollment, she learned to play chess, a game in which she quickly advanced, boosting her confidence and real-world problem-solving skills. In March, her abilities on the black and whites even earned her a match-up against Superintendent James Colbert Jr.

“I’m so proud of Rebeca because she has come a long way,” said Godfrey. “When Rebeca started here, we knew she wanted to attend college, and we just needed to help her get there sober.”

During the ceremony, Santiesteban and classmates who participated in the school’s culinary arts program wore purple and white cords to symbolize their induction into the National Technical Honors Society. The organization recognizes students in Career and Technical Education (CTE) and connects them to trades in the workforce.

For her leadership and dedication, Santiesteban was selected by school administrators to deliver a speech on behalf of the Class of 2023. In her remarks, she shed light on the stigmatization of recovery in society and encouraged her peers to put forward the idea that recovery is possible with the support of caring individuals.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the unwavering support of my family,” said Santiesteban as her parents looked on. “You reminded me of the person I once was and the person I could become. To my Fortis family, you saw beyond my mistakes and believed in my capacity for growth and recovery.”

Rebeca Santiesteban and her mother embrace after the ceremony.

This fall, Santiesteban will attend Augsburg University in Minneapolis.

“She got into this university on her own merit!” said Godfrey. “She has a wonderful personality and the resilience and grit to attend college.”

To help maintain her sobriety, Santiesteban will participate in the university’s StepUP Program, the oldest and largest residential collegiate recovery program in the U.S., like Fortis, which offers students like Santiesteban community support and on-campus access to counselors.

“I wanted a fresh start. It’s one reason I’m going so far away,” said Santiesteban. “I am worried about relapsing, but knowing that I will have a similar support system to Fortis is comforting. I want to stay clean, and with this program, I don’t have to rely solely on myself.”

As Santiesteban and her fellow graduates bid farewell to Fortis Academy, their stories prove that anyone can discover their potential, reclaim their life, and rewrite their narrative.

The following students also graduated from Fortis Academy:

Bethany Delgadillo, Aldine Independent School District

Cruz Medina, Goose Creek Independent School District

Luis Meraz, Aldine Independent School District

Miguel Pacheco, Aldine Independent School District

Vicente Torres, Galena Park Independent School District

Johnny Lewis, Galena Park Independent School District

To learn more about HCDE Schools, visit

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