Friends -- to the Power of Three
An Ability to Overcome Unites Trio of District Honors Students
By Sylvia Moreno
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, June 14, 2003; Page B01
They have known one another since kindergarten, brought together by physical disability and bound by friendship. The Triplets, the teachers call them. The Three Musketeers, one mother says. Los Tres Amigos, says another.
For most of their young lives, Dawn Jennings, Leon Newsome and Claudia Palacios have operated as a trio, each leaning on the others' strength to make up for a weakness. "Three brains equal one," Newsome likes to joke.
But that's not really it. It's that the three -- now 19 and graduates of the District's Roosevelt High School -- know how to take care of one another in a world of "AB's," the able-bodied.
Jennings, the slow one, always goes ahead in her wheelchair while Palacios, aka "Speedy," follows in her wheelchair, and Newsome, using leg braces and walking in with his wide, uneven gait, trails behind.
"That's in case she drops something," Newsome said.
"It's like these two keep me straight. They have to keep me organized," said Jennings. "I'm the clumsy one of the group."
"Leon's the organizer," added Palacios. "I'm good at finding things."
For four years at Roosevelt, they belonged to the same clubs and teamed up for academic competitions. They kept track of homework assignments for one another if one was sick. They rode one another to make sure their college application portfolios were prepared. Newsome and Palacios helped Jennings, who also has a visual impairment, by printing documents and school work for her in large print. And even after Palacios and Newsome became sweethearts in May 2001, the three supported one another emotionally, too.
"When one cries, the other is there to pat them up," Jennings's mother, Tonya Edwards, said.
On Thursday night, the three friends were together on the stage of Howard University's Cramton Auditorium, the only disabled members of the National Honor Society in the graduating class. They were about to receive their diplomas and embark on the next chapter of their lives. Soon they will be on their own, attending separate colleges.
"It's going to be hard and lonely at the same time making new friends," said Palacios, who ranked seventh in Roosevelt's graduating class of 180.
But it probably will not be more difficult than the obstacles the three have overcome already.
Palacios was born with spina bifida in El Salvador, at the height of the country's decade-long civil war. Eighteen months later, in 1986, her parents immigrated with her to Washington to escape the civil unrest -- her father, Juan, had become a target of the army because he was a schoolteacher -- the dire poverty and a health care system virtually destroyed by the war.
"Everyone knows that at the end of a rainbow is a pot of gold," Palacios wrote in her college application essay. "At the end of my rainbow is a pot of goal -- career goals. . . . The journey of my rainbow towards my goals started with faded colors, no health system and war."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company
Claudia Palacios, Leon Newsome and Jessica Arias joke during Roosevelt High School's commencement ceremony.
(Marvin Joseph -- The Washington Post)