Every Student Succeeding 2017

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South San Francisco special needs student finds joy in the face of adversity


Adrian Madrigal may just be one of the friendliest people you will meet. He’s always smiling. He’s always saying hi.

“We walk down the street and people are like, ‘Hey Adrian,’” said Leslie Mejia, Adrian’s mom. “Everywhere he goes, he always makes friends. Everybody loves him.”

When asked why he is so happy, even Adrian has a tough time explaining his joyful demeanor.

“I’m just happy all the time for no reason,” Adrian said.

But if anyone had the right to be down and depressed, it would be Adrian. As a young child, he was diagnosed with hydronephrosis, a condition characterized by excess fluid in the kidney. Adrian uses a catheter every day and is currently on the transplant list. For Adrian, that meant a lot of time spent in the hospital.

“It was just confusing,” Mejia said. “I didn’t know what to expect. We just took it day by day. He celebrated birthdays and Christmases in the hospital.”

Adrian was also born with a mental delay. His speech was severely limited until the age of eleven. Now sixteen years old, Adrian attends moderate-severe special education classes at South San Francisco High.

“I’ve taught all these years and I’ve never met a young man who’s gone through so many challenges and come out so well,” teacher Karen Nyquist said. “And he’s been the most socially aware and the one who’s grown the most maturity of any of the students I’ve seen in all this time. That’s why he stands out so much.”

The future is still murky for Adrian and his family. And while independence is the long-term goal, it’s far from a reality. But Adrian’s mother is more focused on the present and the day-to-day progress of her son.

“Every year he always achieves something else,” Mejia said. “Every single year. Adrian wouldn’t walk. Now he runs. He does stuff on his own. We can leave him alone. He can do for himself. I just hope he keeps on achieving.”

Walking the halls at South San Francisco High, it’s easy to understand why Adrian is an inspiration to everyone he meets.

“Sometimes when we’re feeling down, we just look at Adrian,” Mejia said. “And he’s been through so much. And nothing gets him down. He’s always happy. He always worries about other people.”

Even South San Francisco High principal Cynthia Rapaido, gets emotional talking about one of her star students.

“He’s like my superhero,” Rapaido said. “He’s just resilient. He doesn’t complain. He’s always happy. Not just the simple things in life. But just always grateful.”

There is no debating Adrian Madrigal’s social side. But if you look deeper, you’ll fall in love with his innocence, his warmth, and his purity.

“He’s just a good good person,” Nyquist said. “And lots of times when people have a lot of challenges, they can have some hardness. They harden their hearts or something but is heart is very tender.”