DALLAS, Texas (CBSDFW.COM) — On Friday, UNT Dallas will add to its growing alumni base as several hundred graduates will earn degrees: among them is Caleb Simmons, who — at first glance — is an unlikely success story.
“I didn’t get accepted the first time, it’s crazy,” Simmons admitted with a laugh.
Four years later, the 22 year old has not only earned his degree — but, he’s been selected to deliver the student commencement address.
“No matter how much poverty, or unfortunate circumstances a person can be put in, they can still make a better life for themselves,” Simmons said. “Opportunities can happen if you go for them.”
He speaks with a confidence that he admits is often mistaken for arrogance.
“I tell them, ‘No, the reason I’m like this is because of what I’ve been through.’ I’m extremely proud of myself,” he said.
It is a confidence earned, he says, through adversity.
“When I, like, had no place to live. I would miss a lot of classes because I didn’t have any place to stay, or any transportation. I was going to stop coming to college,” Simmons recalled.
When he finally opened up to UNT Dallas staff, a mentor he had grown close to working in the orientation office got permission to take him in, until he got on his feet.
“A lot of our staff members see a lot of these students as more than just a number, a face in the classroom or in their office,” says Simmons’ mentor, Luis Franco, the university’s Director Undergraduate Recruitment and Admissions. “We know that without addressing the whole student, and their whole situation, they’re not going to be successful.”
After graduation, Simmons hopes to go to work for UNT Dallas as a full-time staffer, working to recruit and encourage other students who don’t see college as possible… because he is a product of that world.
Now, the student who said he didn’t intend to go to college, is now an enthusiastic advocate for higher education — saying his degree is more than a piece of paper. It will break the cycle of generational poverty in his family.
“By breaking it, I mean erasing it,” Simmons said. “There will be no poverty in my family.”
Simmons said his biological mother is not a part of his life, so he has grown close to another UNT Dallas staffer that he calls, “Mom,” who encourages and supports him. Friends and coworkers will fill front row seats at the graduation to cheer him on.
When asked what message he intended to share with classmates, he responded without hesitation. He’ll share the mantra that moved him from poverty, and a dysfunctional home life to becoming a college graduate.
“Keep moving forward.”
He said it’s from his favorite Disney movie Meet the Robinsons.
“If you’re having issues or you think that you can’t succeed, you stop and keep moving forward, you keep getting back on that horse,” he added with a smile. “When life lets you down, when people let you down… you keep moving forward.”