Senior profile: Griswold teen finds resilience in his faith

Robert Waddell, 18, a senior at Griswold High School and camera chief for the school's Video Home Room, works on the live broadcast.
Robert Waddell, 18, a senior at Griswold High School and camera chief for the school's Video Home Room, works on the live broadcast. Tim Martin/The Day Buy Photo

Griswold - For years, Robert Waddell has had a good idea of the path he'll follow.

Faith in God has been a constant during the Griswold High School senior's 18 years, a rock on which Robert has depended to get through some tough times.

"People always say you're a teen, you'll get through it, but it's a challenging phase of your life," Robert said. "With everything I've overcome, I know that I can help other people out."

Robert was born and raised in Florida, but soon after his parents divorced in 2004, he moved with his mother, Rita Waddell, to Griswold. Robert started middle school in the Griswold school district.

Robert said that he was immediately targeted by bullies, who hurled insults and threats at the new kid. It got so bad, Robert said, he contemplated suicide.

"It was a low state of my life," he said. "I guess I was an easy target. Through the power of God, I overcame that."

With renewed faith, Robert tried to get involved in as many activities as possible. He's helped produce morning announcements for his four years of high school, played tennis and fenced.

Robert participated in chorus and played trombone in the school band.

Most important, to him, he helped start the school's Bible Study Club.

"Resilient is a great term to describe Robert," guidance counselor Karen Scholl said. "He's found such joy, especially through faith. He's not afraid of what people think of him, he's very self-aware and understands himself."

One of Robert's favorite creative outlets has been acting, and he has participated in the school's fall musical productions the past few years.

Robert played the lead in last fall's production of "Cyrano de Bergerac."

"I like (acting) because you can take on another person, forget your troubles and go into a different world," Robert said.

In December, another speed-bump popped up in his life.

The day after Christmas, his mother, Rita, voluntarily entered a rehabilitation program for alcohol abuse.

"He really needed to concentrate on college and not me, and the best thing I could do was to show him I was doing a lot better than I was," Rita said of her decision to get sober.

Since that December day, Robert has been on his own, living with a family from his church, New Life Assembly of God, in Griswold.

His senior year, a time to celebrate accomplishments and prepare for a transition into the real world, suddenly morphed into Robert doing his own laundry, cooking and cleaning while keeping up his grades and filling out college applications and financial aid forms.

Those around him say Robert adapted to the challenges, and fast.

"He advocates for himself very well, and he always comes up with a plan," said Katie Mann, the school social worker. "He's had lots of roadblocks, but you just give him the tools, and he follows through."

He showed that earlier this year.

Robert was accepted into Zion Bible College in Haverhill, Mass., and headed there for orientation this spring.

It was his first trip out of state on his own, and he took the train from New London up to South Station in Boston. He transferred trains, took a taxi and ended up in a whole new world.

"When I stepped onto campus, I felt right at home," Robert said. "I met lots of people, made friends, and we're all really excited to begin. I'd count my weekend there as one of the best of my life."

Robert will head back to college in August, just two months after his June 18 graduation.

He'll take courses toward a major in Bible studies so he can use his experiences to help others.

"It's my calling and way of giving back," he said. "I had such a challenging youth because I'm meant to help other youth."

s.goldstein@theday.com

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