Michael Norton, 17, thinks often about the lessons he's learned from his parents - compassion and thoughtfulness from his mother, perseverance and optimism from his father.

He's had to draw on these lessons more often than most. When Norton was 12, his mother died of a heart attack. Three years later, his father died after a long illness, orphaning Norton and his two brothers, now 19 and 21. Their uncle began living with them but died a year later after a heart attack. Michael lives in his house, and relatives take turns staying with them. Despite the tragedies, Norton said he's been able to excel at school and use his time for volunteer activities, such as shaving his head every year to raise money for children's cancer research. His guidance counselor, Kristen Kastner, said he has taken seven advanced placement courses and maintained a 4.0 GPA.

His plans: Pre-dental courses or a major in psychology at the University at Buffalo

In his words: "Every morning you have a choice: You can sit there and let everything get to you, or you can say today's a new day - I can be happy today."

The view from the guidance office: "Resilience, fortitude, perseverance, maturity and modesty are only some of the words I often hear used when describing Mike," said guidance counselor Kristen Kastner.

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