It was already a blessing for Tyria Smith to see her son, Bryan LaGrange, honored at the Sierra Vista High School senior awards ceremony before he enrolls at the University of Montana Western in the fall on a scholarship.
In Louisiana, the single mother of five had seen her kids starting to go down the wrong path. They were the reason she packed up and moved to Las Vegas, where she hoped they could have a better life.
“I was like, you know what, it’s getting rough here in Louisiana for these kids,” she said. “Before my kids start running with the wrong crowd, we have to go — and I saw that coming.”
Smith settled into Las Vegas with family. With an old, often-broken car that her sister bought, she would drive to the school to check in on her four high schoolers, watching Bryan play in as many football games as she could.
The mom got an even greater blessing Thursday when her son received a special senior award: the keys to a used Cadillac to replace the unreliable car.
In just one week, staff at Sierra Vista raised $5,500 through a touching post that Principal John Anzalone shared on Facebook about the family’s journey. Project 150, a local nonprofit, also chipped in.
The family grinned as Smith got into the front seat in the Sierra Vista parking lot, watching her shout with glee as soon as the car turned on.
The new wheels mean staff no longer have to watch Smith pour water into her old car, trying to get it to work in the school parking lot.
But they also mark the end of a journey for Bryan, who came to the valley behind in credits and who wanted to leave high school at one point. Things seemed hopeless for him until he channeled his efforts into football.
“I had a talk with God one day, and he just changed my life through the game of football,” he said.
His mom cared about her children’s education, and she was a frequent presence at the school.
“She’s devoted to the kids,” Anzalone said. “I don’t think there’s a day on campus I don’t see her.”
Though it was hard for Bryan and his younger siblings to adjust to Las Vegas initially, they’ve come to appreciate why their mom yanked them out of Broussard, Louisiana, population 12,000.
Bryan, 19, now serves as a role model for his younger siblings, Loren and Laura Sampey, 16, and Christopher LaGrange, 17.
“I saw my brother change,” said Loren, who just earned all A’s and B’s for the first time in her life. “So I was like, you know what, if he can change, then I can change. And I can do better, just as much as he can do better.”
In college, Bryan plans to study business with the goal of opening a business of his own. He believes he’s now in a position to be able to provide for his family one day.
“When I get there, I’m going to do what I’m supposed to,” he said of college. “I don’t know, I just feel, I just feel good about myself.”