Even cartels couldn’t stop this high school grad from getting his diploma in Prince George’s Co.

Oxon Hill High School student shares inspiring story about risking his life for his diploma

Graduating seniors from Oxon Hill High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland, will cross the stage and get their diplomas Monday. It’s a walk that Henry Teo Palma risked his life to make — after two attempts to cross the border and getting stopped by cartels while immigrating to the U.S. from Guatemala.

Teo Palma came to Oxon Hill after the ninth grade, finishing his final three years of high school in the United States, where he found more opportunities and a better life waiting.

He began his American high school career alone, living on his own with a father who had passed away and a mother who stayed behind in Guatemala.

“When Henry got here, he knew that his number one goal was education,” said Jaqueline Marquez, a school counselor who works with students who came to the U.S. from other countries.

Because he’s not fluent in English, Marquez sat in to help share Teo Palma’s story.

“When he came here, he wanted to know ‘what can I do to make sure that I graduate as soon as possible?’ Because his main goal was to be able to work and help support his family and himself,” she said.

While he was a fulltime student, Teo Palma was also working to be able to pay rent, buy groceries and even help his older sister make the move to America.

“In order to help family, sometimes, there would be maybe a week or 10 days that he couldn’t come to school, because he had to just take on as many hours as possible due to some of the difficulties that his family was facing,” Marquez said.

He made two attempts to cross the southern border.

“He was stopped both times and held at ransom by the cartel where they were requesting money,” Marquez said, recounting the story he explained in Spanish. “And he understood the second time he attempted … that his life was at risk.”

Marquez said that during his second attempt where he was held ransom, his mom sent money to the cartel for them to release him.

And he’s made the most of it. When Teo Palma arrived at Oxon Hill, he enrolled in the school’s ROTC program, and will join the U.S. Army after graduation.

“He has found a home here in ROTC,” Marquez said. “ROTC really has provided support for him. It opened up his eyes to the opportunities that the military could provide for him, as well as reaching his end goal.”

After the Army, he wants to be a medical examiner.

“The Army has got opportunity to go to college,” he said in his own words.

Teo Palma also advocated for himself, making sure he was able to get credit for relevant classes he took his first year of high school in Guatemala, which enabled him to graduate on time.

Marquez said four other students are graduating from Oxon Hill because he encouraged them to do the same thing. In addition, he also took virtual evening classes to help stay on track.

“He made it a priority and learned to advocate for himself, did what he could to find the person in the building that would understand what he was trying to do,” Marquez said.

“Nothing is impossible when your goal is to be a better person,” said Teo Palma.

Sibling success, not rivalry

twin graduates prince georges county
Two sets of twins are graduating together from Oxon Hill High School in Prince George’s County, Maryland: Anise and Kai Lampley (top) and Imani and Brandi O’Neal (bottom). (WTOP/John Domen)

Joining Teo Palma on the stage are two sets of twins who are graduating from the Science and Technology program at Oxon Hill. Those four girls are each graduating with GPAs of at least 4.2. Each sister credits her sibling for that success, making clear it was never a sibling rivalry.

“We’ve always helped each other while studying,” Kai Lampley said.

Her sister, Anise, said Kai was her biggest cheerleader, and vice versa.

“So if one of us doesn’t exceed succeed, it feels like both of us didn’t,” Anise said.

It was a similar story from Brandi and Imani O’Neal.

“There’s always been like, a sense of friendly competition,” Imani said. “Seeing the other succeed, you want to do the same and strive to be better, but push the other the same way.”

“But we would help each other,” Brandi said. “If one was struggling, we always want to help the other person as well. And we always want to keep pushing the other.”

It’s no surprise that each girl will attend the same college as her twin.

The O’Neals are both headed to Hampton University, though their paths will start to split off a little bit: Brandy plans to study electrical engineering while Imani will study biochemistry. But even then, they’ll try to find a way to learn together.

“We’ve always would quite like to do research together in the future. That’s always an option,” Brandi said. “But really, just find options that give us freedom in the field to do what we’re passionate about and do what we want really with our fields, so electrical engineering and her with chemistry.”

For the Lampleys, that means going to Tuskegee Univeristy.

Anise is also going to study electrical engineering, with the hopes of maintaining her career in the engineering field after college. But Kai will study engineering as an undergraduate, with plans to go to law school to become a patent attorney.

“I hope that we both achieve our goals and like continue to work together, and everything that our future careers will help each other,” Anise said.

Get breaking news and daily headlines delivered to your email inbox by signing up here.

© 2024 WTOP. All Rights Reserved. This website is not intended for users located within the European Economic Area.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up