At schools all across the country, graduation day is a celebration of hard work and sacrifice. Nowhere were those two attributes more appropriately used than at Virginia Union's ceremony earlier in May, where Justin White earned his Bachelor's Degree in English.
After graduating from Hermitage High School in 2008, Justin fulfilled a promise to his late grandfather, who left school himself after the third grade, that he earn a degree.
"He would always push us to stay in school as much as possible" Justin recalled. "Learn as much as you can. Just never stop learning."
That was easier said than done for Justin. He initially attended Shepherd University in West Virginia on a football scholarship, but the situation did not work out. He then transferred to Hampton University where he walked onto the football team.
Through coaching changes, transfers, and a depletion of funds, Justin had to leave Hampton in 2010 and found himself working two jobs and sleeping in his car. He called upon the discipline he learned from football practices to get him through a dark point in his life.
And he did ask, 'why me?'.
"I questioned it a lot," Justin said. "But at the end of the day, everyone goes through their trials and tribulations. I just couldn't give up. I guess having that mentality from sports, I just never gave up."
His final stop was Virginia Union, where he could finish his schooling while staying close to his newborn son. He overcame his own dyslexia to earn his degree which he is now using to help special needs children. He joined the VUU golf team to repay a favor to a coach who helped him along the way, despite having never played the sport before. He uses his own struggles and experiences to set an example for the younger kids he now mentors. He regrets nothing.
"Despite what society says, despite what whoever says, you can overcome this. It can't defeat you. Nothing can defeat you, except you."
Justin now plans to return to Hampton to earn his Master's degree beginning this fall.