This year’s crop of commencement speakers aren’t the only source of inspiration this graduation season. Sometimes, the people sitting in the audience can be just as moving as the speakers at the podium.
Here, six graduates whose stories will leave you feeling motivated:
1. The 67-year-old former drug dealer who graduated from Columbia University
“After 67 years, two prison stints and so many arrests he’s lost count, a former Harlem drug dealer graduated from Columbia University as the oldest member of his class,”the NY Post reported. “David Norman shed his dark past for a cap and gown Wednesday after earning his long-awaited bachelor’s degree in philosophy.”
2. The university custodian who graduated from the school he cleaned for eight years
It’s Good Will Hunting come to life: “Michael Vaudreuil started what he thought would be temporary janitorial work at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in 2008,” CNBC reported. “Now after eight years of working and studying, the married father of three has earned a mechanical engineering Bachelor’s of Science, with a minor in psychology. He maintained a 3.65 grade-point average.”
3. The 24-year-old single mom who thanked her son for inspiring her to graduate
Jelina Sheppard graduated from North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University and won the hearts of the internet after posting about her true inspiration on Instagram:
4. The convicted felon who got a doctorate degree in education so he could open a community college for other former prisoners
ABC7 Chicago reported earlier this year that Daniel Geiter graduated from Benedictine University and “plans to turn a South Side warehouse into a non-profit community college geared toward [former inmates], called Ward College.”
5. The 81-year-old grandma whose lifelong dream was to graduate college
“Trudy Murdock had to deprioritize graduating from college for most of her life. At the 15, Trudy Murdock became the family’s breadwinner as a bank worker,” Parent Herald reported. “Come her late 30s, Trudy Murdock attempted to pursue a college degree in nursing. However, Trudy Murdock had to skip a college degree once again to take care of her sick mother.”
Now, Murdock holds a diploma from Rockland Community College.
6. The 96-year-old veteran who became the University of Southern California’s oldest graduate this year
“Alfonso Gonzales received his Bachelor’s of Science in zoology Friday, nearly 70 years after he first started at USC,” NBC News reported.