PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — When Gibbs High School students take to the stage in June for their graduation, Qwynn Foster, 17, will be graduating a year early. 

The soon-to-be graduate said he owes his tenacity, perseverance, and work ethic to his great grandmother, Johnnie May Woods, who raised him since he was 8-years-old.

What You Need To Know

  • Qwynn Foster, 17, who has overcome many obstacles throughout his life, is graduating high school early
  • Foster was Class President every year and won numerous academic awards
  • Foster said he owes his tenacity, perseverance, and work ethic to his great grandmother who raised him

  • Johnnie May Woods, his great grandmother, passed away in February
  • Foster plans to attend Vanderbilt University to become a Neurosurgeon

"To describe what she meant to me is very hard because I wouldn't be here today without her and without her support and everything that she really taught me and showed me growing up," Foster said.

He said the number one lesson was the importance of community service.

Foster said when he started at Gibbs High School as a freshman, he was determined to make a difference.

Teachers said he stood out from the start.

"I know people that haven't come anywhere near the obstacles that he's overcome, and I'm talking about adults, too, and they're nowhere near as happy as he is. He wasn't going to be stopped," said Jennifer Tuazon, a teacher at the school.

Foster was President of his class every year and he won numerous academic awards.

He said it is important for him to be a role model.

"My advice to anyone is just that you're stronger than you really believe you are and that what you're going through is only one moment in time," he said.

Foster's own strength was tested again in February when Woods passed away unexpectedly.

"We used to always have talks about her seeing me walk across the stage at graduation and you know, it's very hard to know she's not going to be there but I'll know she's looking down and just happy," he said.

Foster spent his last semester of high school in transitional housing.

He opted to graduate a year early and will be attending Vanderbilt University in Nashville on a full scholarship.

He thinks Woods would be proud.

"I just really remember her saying "You're going to make it" and it was like those words really kept me moving forward."

He plans to become a Neurosurgeon.

"If I can make a difference in someone's life and make it better — if I can help that's what I want to do," he said.