Sterling, moving into his dorm room

The definition of the word resilience is having the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties. Over the course of my life I’ve had the pleasure to witness the growth of my cousin Sterling who overcame constant struggles throughout his childhood and developed into the strong young man that he is today.

To gain a more in depth perspective of Sterling’s story, I interviewed both him and his mother, my aunt, Andee.

Sterling’s journey began around the age of four, when he was labeled PDD-NOS (Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified), a condition in which a person experiences features of autism and/or other identifiable forms of pervasive developmental disorder. In preschool, Sterling was placed in early intervention which was half regular class and half special education. There wasn’t much of a struggle for him during that time frame,  however elementary school proved otherwise.

“I was at my worst in elementary school,” Sterling told me. “I was very shy and afraid and I didn’t really have any friends. I was put into small classes and struggled on the tests and school work. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on. I did my best.”

“He would have to deal with all of these different teachers and specialists and unfortunately some of them he didn’t understand,” Andee said. “Sterling would try so hard on everything, but when he couldn’t understand something he would break down.”

When it came to middle school, Sterling immediately saw a glimmer of hope when he was placed in all normal classes. He did well in the beginning but unfortunately couldn’t pass the tests. He wound up being put back into special education classes – that dealt a blow to his confidence. Everything appeared to be as dark and gloomy as elementary school until he developed a close friendship with a fellow learning -disabled student named Ahad.

“Sterling was introduced to Ahad through one of his teachers because they weren’t interacting with other students and the two seemed to really connect with one another,” Andee said. “Ahad was a year older than Sterling but he didn’t seem to care and the two of them really hit it off. Ahad transferred to a private school but he continued to stay in touch with Sterling until he tragically passed away.”

Unfortunately during spring break of 2010, Ahad and his brother fell victim to carbon monoxide poisoning when attending a family occasion in Pakistan.

“Sterling and I talked about it for a while. It was one of those things where all I could do was walk him through it and tell him that his heart was broken and that this was something that was going to have to heal over time,” Andee said.

Sterling’s struggles continued into the next year of middle school until a new transfer student would make his way into his life. A year after Ahad passed away, Sterling met Cameron, a fellow learning -disabled student who he found a connection with. The two of them grew very close, spending countless hours together during the remainder of their journey throughout middle school. Sterling felt that Ahad sent Cameron to be friends with him as they headed to high school.

“During the first two years of high school, I didn’t care about anything. I was still in small classes and I didn’t think school was that important. I avoided most people and started to grow distant from Cameron,’ Sterling said. “He betrayed me because I wouldn’t help him help a fellow student cheat. I got mad with everything and didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life but the following year, something turned on inside me that motivated me to do better in school. In my junior year, I started developing good relationships with all of my teachers and really started to figure school out on my own. I passed all of the tests in the small classes to prove that I belonged in regular classes. I stayed there all the way until the end of high school when I graduated.”

When I asked Sterling what his GPA was, he responded, “3.5 to 3.6.” His explanation for his key to success was that he simply figured it all out.

“I grew confidant and did whatever I had to do to prove to myself that I could do it.”

Sterling’s journey with his struggles had reached its end while the beginning of his success has only just begun. Sterling applied to various colleges and in 2016 he was accepted to the University of Arizona.

“College is a whole new start, a whole new world, a whole new life. It’s a light shining in the sky saying it’s your time. I’m very happy here. I’m maturing. I’m more responsible than I was in New Jersey. I’m more sociable, have better people skills and I’m no longer afraid of public speaking. I live with a roommate, joined some clubs and got my first real job, working at a market on campus. I go to football games by myself and have a great time.”

“I was shocked that he was able to find it all out on his own,” Andee said. “Sterling out of nowhere just started making things happen. He worked so hard for so long and one thing after another all came together. I couldn’t be prouder of him.”

Sterling’s advice to anyone who is struggling –  “Hard work pays off and you need confidence to succeed in life.”

Author Profile

Ryan Barba is an Oakland native who is following his passion of writing. It has lead to his desire to further his knowledge and insight in this profession by learning and sharing with others. Ryan attended primary and secondary schools in Oakland and has ties to various community outreach programs throughout the East Bay. Having spent his life in Oakland, he looks forward to using this opportunity as a platform to tell stories that are occurring in his wonderful community.


  1. A very touching story that gives hope to anyone who is facing adversity. As Dr King said, “We shall overcome” and like the civil rights movement, Sterling overcame impossible odds to succeed and be accepted as a normal young man.

  2. I enjoyed while reading the article a sincere sense of concern, kindness and positive growth in this story.

  3. Great job, Ryan. Good story about Sterling and how he overcame his obstacles and succeeding very well!

  4. Congratulations Sterling. You are an inspiration to all. Well written composition on a super subject. Way to go to both the writer and subject!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. It’s a pleasure to read this true story, not only for its inspirational content — much admiration to Sterling and his family — but for its journalistic fidelity to the facts as related by the most-involved sources. Ryan Barba’s years of work as a writer show in the shaping of the material, both at the sentence level and as a whole. I look forward to reading more.

  6. Fantastic article from a fantastic budding young journalist. Ryan, you told Sterljng’s Story beautifully. Sterling, congratulations to you. We are all rooting for you! —Ms. G

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