Many of his friends are spending time behind bars. His mother lost her battle with cancer nearly six years ago. His father is absent from his life.
Clarence Banks’ experiences would push most young students out of college and force them to leave their dreams behind. But Banks fought through the obstacles, becoming the first of his family to graduate.
Banks received his bachelor’s degree in finance and banking from Delaware State University on Sunday, after earning an impressive 3.58 GPA.
He was also the recipient of the Presidential Leadership Award, which was presented to him by the university’s president, Dr. Harry L. Williams.
On that sunny day, underneath clear blue skies, his friends, family and neighborhood mentor watched him complete one of the biggest accomplishments of his life – an accomplishment that wasn’t expected of a young man who grew up the way he had.
“I grew up in north Wilmington, on 17th street,” Banks said. “So all my friends are in jail for doing drugs, things like that. Everyone I knew was doing something they weren’t supposed to.”
Banks, on the other hand, steered clear of trouble.
The public schools in Wilmington lag 9 percentage points behind the statewide high school graduation rate of nearly 80 percent, but Banks was determined to succeed.
He recalled his mother, Pearl Banks Jackson, keeping him focused on school and reading before she passed away in 2008.
Although his biological father was not present in his life, Banks was never left without a father figure.
Gerald Holmes, the owner of an auto-body shop near Banks’ family home, spotted the young inner-city kid one day and helped guide him in the right direction.
“He was one of the kids in the neighborhood,” Holmes said. “I seen him going around, picked him up and had him with me ever since. Even before his mom died, he was with me – about 8 years old. I had him come around there, doing little odd jobs and he started hanging out with me and my family right here – driving me crazy, like kids do.”
Now Holmes is filled with pride and excitement for the kid who succeeded against all odds.
Banks will now go on to do for other children what Holmes did for him.
During his time in college, he served as a DSU peer mentor by reading to schoolchildren in Dover and working with high school students back home.
Banks said that there are very few mentors where he comes from, and he feels good that he can give back.
“To me, it’s all about mentoring,” Banks said. “You’ve gotta have a mentor. You won’t really find many mentors living around that area.”
Banks was not the only overwhelming success on the field of the Alumni Stadium on Sunday.
According to school spokesman Carlos Holmes, the fall 2013 and spring 2014 graduating class will far surpass last year’s record number of graduates.
Over 750 students donned their caps and gowns as they took their seats on the field, compared to 671 students from last year.
School officials are hopeful that the size of the DSU graduating class will continue to grow each year.