Though she is approximately the height on an average person's mid-thigh, Tabby Mahdi walked tall amongst her fellow graduating seniors at the South Lake High School commencement.
"I feel like I have to go higher to prove to people that I can do the same things as everyone else," said Mahdi, a 2 1/2 foot tall 18-year-old, who wore a specially-made graduation gown at the ceremony Tuesday afternoon.
During her four years at South Lakes and her time at Aldrin Elementary School and Herndon Middle School, Mahdi faced the daily hardships of being a little person in a world built for people more than twice her size.
But Mahdi has learned to cope with her height disadvantage. She stands on nearby chairs to reach water fountains and vending machines; she props herself up on one leg to reach her desk in the classroom; she relies on her friends to hand her food as they walk through the lunch line.
"There are a lot of great people at South Lakes who didn't judge me for how tall I am," she said. "They saw me as a person."
High school hasn't all been great for her, however. When she was a freshman, a member of the school's baseball team teased her relentlessly — at least, until she punched him between the legs.
"I guess I had to beat him up to prove myself," she said, noting that she was given in-school suspension for the incident.
Also, being instantly noticeable made it more difficult to cut class, she said.
The worst part, she said, is getting bumped in the hallways when teachers and students don't see her. But that doesn't happen so much anymore since she realized people will notice her more if she makes enough noise.
"I'm the loudest person in the school," she said. "You cannot miss me."
MAHDI'S CLOSEST friend, Fabiola Saravia, who will graduate this summer, said she helps Mahdi get through her day by holding open doors that are either too heavy or out of her reach or by pushing her around in a wheelchair when Mahdi's legs become tired.
That help has gone both ways, Saravia said. Two years ago, Saravia was failing her government class, so Mahdi tutored her after school and helped bring her grade up to a B.
"That's something I'll never forget," Saravia said. "If it wasn't for her, I'd have failed that year."
Delilah Morris, Mahdi's 12th grade English teacher at South Lakes, said Mahdi has a knack for writing poetry, with her height being the focus of several powerful poems.
"She can do anything or be anything she wants," Morris said. "She's got a good head on her."
The school's front desk secretary, who has known Mahdi since she first came to the school, said she is inspired by Mahdi's up-beat personality and sunny outlook on life.
"She's one of the bravest, most courageous students I've met," Liz Knapp said.
MAHDI WISHES she was taller, if only by a few inches, but she has come to accept — and almost embrace — her outward appearance.
"I kind of like the fact that I'm different from everybody else," she said. "It doesn't matter if you're short or little or whatever."
She hopes to eventually enroll in a college to study psychology, she said, but first she is taking at least a year off from school to undergo surgery on her legs and to be fitted for a back brace, which is hoped to alleviate her scoliosis.
For now, Mahdi is just thrilled she is graduating from high school.
"I'm surprised it finally came," she said. "I'm so excited."