Nasha Bell always loved math -- something about the stable simplicity of knowing there's one right answer.
"I felt like it was the only [subject] that made sense," he said. "Two plus two is always going to be four. That's never going to change."
But, for years, constant change and instability in Bell's life threatened to derail his academic talents -- and his grandmother's ambition that he finish high school and go to college.
Bell, 18, has been enrolled at 14 different schools since he started elementary, from the Bronx to Albany, staying with relatives and bouncing back and forth from Manhattan to upstate before settling in Brentwood in May 2010. On June 23, he will become the first male in his family to graduate high school and will have tacked on an Advanced Regents diploma and a $13,000 annual scholarship to Pace University's Westchester campus.
But at one point, the gifted student was cutting school and failing his classes.
Bell was 14, a freshman at Frederick Douglass Academy in Harlem and living with his maternal grandmother, Gail Bell, the woman who he says raised him.
"It was the fast life," he said. "I was getting in a lot of trouble."
When Bell's grandma died unexpectedly at 59 in January 2009, he took it hard. "All she wanted us to do was go to school, me and all my cousins," he said. "She didn't care about anything else. So I figured I'd make her happy and finish school."
Bell moved back to Albany to live with his mom and younger siblings the next year. But at the end of his sophomore year, he decided to move to Brentwood to test out life in the suburbs with his paternal grandmother.
"Once I came to Brentwood I was focused," he said. "I knew what I wanted to do and I didn't want to be back and forth."
In guidance counselor Denise Fasano's office at Brentwood High School, Bell insisted on graduating on time and told her he wanted to earn an advanced diploma. It would mean night classes and a heavy load his senior year, Fasano told him.
"A lot of people say 'I'm going to do this, I'm going to do that and get it done and graduate,' " Fasano said. "But Nasha put his action to his words and he got it done -- and then he took extra classes."
His junior year, Bell went to school, worked in the district's administration building for a few hours every afternoon and attended his three-hour English class two nights a week. Despite the grueling schedule, he calls that year the high point of his high school career. His senior year, he joined the varsity football team as running back but broke his ankle during practice before homecoming weekend, an injury that required four surgeries.
He hasn't fully recovered, but Bell said he plans to walk on to Pace's football team in the fall, when he starts his college career in business marketing. He said mostly, he's looking forward to being in a new environment and getting a chance at a new beginning.
Now three years later, he still thinks of his grandmother and the promise he made.
"She would be happy," he said. "She would tell me, 'It ain't over yet -- it's just starting.' "