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Groton — If she could go back in time, Mia Hazel said she would.
"I would do freshman year all over again," said Hazel, 18, who will graduate from Robert E. Fitch High School on June 20.
She'd go back so she could be more outgoing, less shy and less hot-tempered, she said. Hazel struggled academically and financially in high school. Her mother had difficulty finding work, then ended up with a low-wage job to try to pay the bills. Hazel didn't see her father much.
"I didn't want to ask (my mother) for money, because that was too much. I'd rather buy my own clothes," Hazel said. "All my paycheck went for things I needed for school. And if my mom needed help with bills, I'd help her."
Difficulties at home spilled over into school. "Back in the day, I had bad behavior," said Hazel, who hopes to attend Three Rivers Community College to pursue a career as a guidance counselor, or join the military.
Most people who faced Hazel's challenges wouldn't have been able to accomplish what she has, said guidance counselor Rodwins Auriantal. Hazel entered high school as a special education student due to a learning disability and opted out of special education during her sophomore year.
She stayed in college preparatory classes and will finish with almost all A's her final semester, he said.
"She wanted to rise to the challenge and she did," Auriantal said. "She worked extremely hard on her academics."
Hazel said she opted out because "I wanted to show them I could do it without extra help, that I could do it on my own." She was also in speech therapy in elementary and middle school.
She said she started high school feeling intimidated, nervous and shy.
"I was quiet. I wasn't open to meeting new people," she said.
She had a hard time negotiating conflicts.
"I had to be right," she said.
On one occasion, a verbal argument during a math class escalated, and she said she shrugged off a comment about calling security, then called a teacher a foul name.
The result was a five-day-out-of-school suspension, she said.
Her early high school grades ran the gamut - from A's to D's, she said.
"I passed," she said. "But I wish I'd gone after school and stayed for extra help."
But slowly, she began to adjust and do better. She found support in the guidance office and sought it out, Auriantal said.
During her sophomore year, she joined the track team, which she said taught her the importance of persistence.
"If you want to go to state (competition) for track, you can't just show up and be lazy," she said. "You've got to show them that you want it. Be there every day."
She stuck with it. She said she didn't go to the state competition, but that she could have.
She said she still struggled with her temper in her later high school years and ended up with in-school suspensions. But she also learned to work on it, she said.
The youngest of three, Hazel ran track until the season ended and works 29 hours a week at Wendy's on Long Hill Road. She brought her grades up to A's in all but one subject.
Hazel lives with her mother, who works at Wal-Mart, and her brother. Her other brother manages the Wendy's where she works and lives nearby.
Hazel's most immediate goal is to get a better paying job so she can buy a car. She said she believes graduating high school is an accomplishment, one that taught her lessons that had nothing to do with books. She knows other students who didn't make it.
"I feel like I did pretty well," she said.
And Hazel plans to continue learning.
"I want to get into a new atmosphere," she said. "It would make me a better person."