Antonio Green, 17, said he had never flown on a plane before.
In fact, he said he had never visited anywhere outside of Mississippi besides Alabama and Florida on a family vacation.
But on Saturday, it all changed. The Gulfport High School rising senior boarded a plane at Gulfport-Biloxi International Airport and headed for Reykjavik, Iceland, which is about 4,000 miles from his home.
While many students his age are hitting the beaches of Gulf Shores and Panama City for some fun in the sun before the beginning of senior year, Green is attending a summit on climate change. He will spend a week in Iceland studying the environment.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Sun Herald
Green said he was excited about traveling to Iceland on the scholarship from the Gulfport NAACP. It's a major milestone in his life, a life that, at times, was very hard for him and his family.
Green entered into foster care at age 4. He was in and out of foster care until he moved in with his grandmother. His mother died when he was in fourth grade and his father died the following year. He was 11.
But Green persevered.
"I was able to keep my grades up because it just pushed me to do more," he said. "I wanted to be a lawyer when I was a kid because my grandmother said that I would always argue my case."
Like many on the Coast, Green also remembers the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the BP oil spill.
"I was in foster care during Katrina and I remember we had nothing to eat but crackers and peanut butter," Green said. "The playground that was in the back of the house was demolished."
Green was 9 when the BP oil spill happened and he said it had a big impact on his life.
"I used to love to eat seafood before that happened and I remember we had to boil water for what seemed like a long time," he said. "I remember seeing some of the tar balls along the beach a few months later — the BP oil spill really pushed to me start studying the environment and paying more attention to what was going on; the effects from the oil spill are still lingering and now President Trump is going to deregulate the regulations placed on deep water drilling."
Studying the environment
Green began attending some climate change seminars hosted by the Gulfport NAACP when he was in high school. He also studied environmental science at Gulfport High taught by Hale Switzer.
"The further we get from the equator, things get more seasonal," Green said. "We have flowers that grow here year-round. Our lands on the Coast have been hurt by all of the flooding and we see severe weather here more often than we used to."
Kathy Egland of the Gulfport NAACP is making the trip with Green.
"We have been doing environmental training for years and Antonio made more trainings than anyone else on our list," Egland said.
She said Green was recommended by NAACP member Christine Brice.
"Antonio's story really touched my heart and I could tell he was very intelligent and he would go to the top at whatever he decides to do in his life," Brice said.
"He called me on Mother's Day and asked me to pick him up — his family was going to visit his mother's grave and he said he wanted to wait until he got back from Iceland (to visit her grave)."
While in Iceland, Green will study volcanoes, glaciers and even the puffin population.
"I hope to be able to bring some information and be able to relate to the Gulf Coast," he said.
Green was equipped with a GoPro camera and some other items, including a laptop and North Face jackets. He will be making a video of his trip that will be studied by future students at Gulfport High.
"Antonio is the only student I've had that has been given this opportunity," Hale said. "Although he will not be my student next year, we will be using his work to study in my classroom."