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‘Wait a Minute. I Don’t Have to Pay for College?’: 14-Year-Old Walks More Than 6 Miles to Eighth-Grade Graduation Ceremony, Surprised with Scholarship from HBCU

A St. Louis, Missouri, teen, who walked almost three hours to his middle school graduation ceremony, has been awarded a full scholarship to Harris-Stowe State University.

The president of the 166-year-old institution said the young man’s perseverance impressed her and now he will not have to pay for college.

On the day of Xavier Jones’ eighth-grade graduation from the Yeatman Middle School, no one in his family was able to get him to the ceremony over six miles away.

Xavier Jones walked 6.5 miles from north St. Louis to Harris Stowe State University to attend his eighth-grade graduation. (Photo: @HarrisStowe/Twitter)

On Tuesday, May 23, the resilient 14-year-old did not let that deter him from getting his diploma. 

Determined to attend the promotion ceremony, he, his brother, and a friend all agreed to walk the distance from his home on Florissant Avenue to the midtown campus of HSSU, where the program was being held.

Related: ‘Raising the Bar High’: New Orleans Teen Breaks Record with $9M In Scholarship Offers, 125 Acceptance Letters, and the Number Is Growing

“I was going to tell an adult, but my grandpa’s car was down. So, I was just going to walk there,” Jones said in an interview with KMOV. 

Instead, he said, “I looked up Harris Stowe University on Google Maps, and then I saw the walking distance, and then I said I could probably make it.”

His grandfather nor the school staff were aware of Jones’ decision to walk and were shocked to discover the goal that was set and met by the teen.

When asked what motivated him to make the trek, Jones, who was promoted with a 4.0,  simply said, “I wanted to walk across the stage.”

The teen, who wants to be a NASCAR driver, told KSDK he also wanted to get all his “awards and stuff.”

Darren Seals, a mentor from the Sankofa Community Center, was giving a speech during the graduation when Jones arrived and said he stopped immediately.

He told those gathered in the assembly, “Everyone, get off your feet. Give him a standing ovation.”

According to Seals, people were shocked saying, “Whoa, this boy walked.”

Later on, the mentor shared, “The shoes that he walked in had holes in the bottom, holes in the top. A long road, I wouldn’t have walked it.”

The HBCU’s president Latonia Collins Smith was equally impressed after Seals immediately told her the story of Jones’ day.

“When I heard that story, and to see that young man, who was so bright and just excited and driven, it spoke volumes to me. It spoke resilience, persistence, perseverance,” she said, adding that it showed her that Jones believed “regardless of what the adversity is, I am going to press my way to this promotion ceremony.”

Smith said that is what sparked her interest in Jones’ future. She offered the young scholar a full ride to the college on the spot. The presidential scholarship is valued at $64,000 and will cover four years of tuition, room and board, books and fees. Now all Jones has to do is graduate from high school.

“At the end of the rainbow, there’s a pot of gold. I learned a lot from Xavier that day. Even on your worst day keep pressing forward,” Smith said.

Seals said he tells all of his students that they are bigger than their circumstances and can beat down any obstacle before them.

“Change the norm, that’s what I tell the kids. Change the norm. No matter if you live a nightmare, never give up,” he explains. “When God gives you a vision in your sleep, you wake up like I can’t do that.  No, you can do it ’cause he gave it to you.”

Jones said Seals had long inspired him not to give up. He said Seals told him, “If I want it, I got to go get it.”

When Collins Smith first told him that she was giving him a “full ride,” he had no idea what that meant.

According to Seals, Jones thought that meant he was going to get a ride home from the ceremony.

“I was like, ‘No, you’re getting a ride to college.’ He said, ‘Wait a minute. I don’t have to pay for college?’ Then it started hitting him,” the mentor shared.

After the ceremony, the president arranged for him to receive a tour of the school’s campus.

The next week, the president and Bennie Gilliam-Williams, special assistant to the president and university events coordinator arranged for Jones to meet Worldwide Technology Raceway owner and president Curtis Francois and receive a pair of tickets to the Illinois Enjoy 300 on Sunday, June 4.

While reflecting on that day, Jones told the St. Louis American, “I didn’t know I was going to get a scholarship. I just wanted to hold my own [diploma.]”

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