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Friday, April 13, 2012

Homeless to Graduate...My journey to Liberty University Class of 2012 Day 2...29 days to go

29 days...
This time next month I'll be in Lynchburg Va. for my graduation.  The long and winding road comes to a destination at last. I'm sure countless other journeys will spring from this one but this one has been such a big part of my life for so long now. In the 32 years since I graduated High School, I have worked at a plumbing supply, a chemical plant, a roofing and siding supply, an HVAC supply, and I was a carpenter for 14 years. I was a mortgage banker for 10 years and I was homeless and basically picked up odd jobs for the last four years. In all that time, and in all of those various incarnations...I longed to finish this degree. It was the one thread that wound through everything else I was doing.
I should have graduated in 1986 with the rest of my class who graduated High School in 1981.  But again...there wasn't a lot of premium on education in the house I grew up in and I was trying so hard just to be something, that I missed the chance. I grew up hearing the benefits of working in a factory somewhere. Or being a plumber or an air-conditioning technician. Not that those careers are bad, or even less. But they weren't the thing that burned in my heart. There were a few conversations like the one "Rudy" and his father had at the bus terminal. "You can work at the steel mill a crew one day. There's nothing wrong with that" Rudy's response..."It's not what I want..."
Conversations of any kind were pretty scant where I grew up. For a lot of reasons.
I had to take a crazy and winding course to get to where I am this morning...up at 4:30 making coffee and doing algebra.
I have a doctor appointment this afternoon to see if we can rein in this vertigo. I know it's stress related, because I went through this once before. Once I graduate and can focus on my new job and a few other things and don't have the crush of school going on, I'll relax a bit. But for now the schedule is grinding. I'll do math until about 7:30, then head for the job site (today I'm finishing up painting a deck ) then get back here around 6PM and do homework until I literally fall asleep.
Last night I was at it until 11PM. That's an early cutoff for me but I was literally falling asleep at the computer. My head snapped back a few times and I realized I'd been doing the same equation for 20 minutes. So I went to bed and I'm at it today.
It's a grind and the thought has crossed my mind a few times that I could just drop the Algebra, finish strong in the two other courses I have and take Algebra in the summer. That would work except I wouldn't be allowed to walk with my class and I'd have to wait until next May (2013).
I've seen myself walking across that stage too many times now to give up. I've heard Chancellor Falwell telling my story during Commencement and I've felt his handshake and Jonathan's and I have my degree.
As soon as I scrape together the $217 I am ordering my cap and gown and announcements. I already filled out the form online and they sent me a proof:
The Board of Trustees, Chancellor
Provost and Faculty of
Liberty University
announce that
Robert Craig Daliessio
received the degree of
Bachelor of Science in Religion
at the Commencement Exercise
Saturday morning
May twelfth, Two Thousand and Twelve
at ten o'clock
Williams Stadium
Liberty University
Lynchburg, Virginia

It's all I can do to maintain my composure as I read those words. It's why I am up at 4:30 and up still at midnight. It's what drives me to the finish line. This is what I was put here to do. And this hard way...that was part of God's plan apparently. Whether He designed it that way or not I know He'll use it. I have already received emails and "Tweets" from a few older people who heard of my story and decided to take the chance and enroll at LUOnline themselves and pursue  a dream burning within their chests. I didn't start out to inspire anyone else...I just needed one thing to go right in a world that had broken all around me and left me homeless and ragged and ready to quit. Along the way I became an inspiration.
I love the movie "Tombstone". Val Kilmer steals the show as Doc Holliday and there is a scene where right after a riverside gun battle that defies logic and reality, Wyatt Earp's men are reloading and getting ready to ride off and one of the men says,speaking of Earp  "If they were my brothers I'd want revenge too".   Holliday says "Oh make no mistake, it's not revenge he's's a reckoning"
Maybe that's what this degree means to me...a reckoning. After 28 years I still had what it took to finish this. After four years of homelessness I was able to find something I could do that would work. After losing my home, then my career, and all my dreams and hopes I had one thing left I could attempt that I could succeed at. If nothing else, this degree was well-timed.
That's what this means to me. For 3 and 1/2 years I endured the humiliating crush of homelessness while those around me ignored my presence in their midst. I caught, in the occasional storefront window, the reflection of a man who was running on fumes and stubbornness. I was singular in my determination not to leave my daughter no matter what. I grew up without my dad...I would not see her endure that. And so I stayed in that car, and showered in that rec center, and studied at Panera Bread Company, or the library, or FedEx Office, or in my car by flashlight, because that's all I had at my disposal. If this was the price I would have to pay for my degree I would pay it. If this is what inspiration looks be it. I'm an inspiration I guess.
So I have to endure four more weeks of insanity and stress and even vertigo but I will do it because I will be there May 12, and I will hear Chancellor Falwell tell my story and I will hear them call my name and I will walk across that stage and get my degree. 
And nothing...not another economic collapse or another career failure or a divorce or anything else, will ever take this from me. Last August was the last August that I will ever feel regret about seeing kids go off to college and me not going with them. By this fall, when college kids go back to campus and begin, or continue their education...I will have completed mine. 
...the formal part at least. One never really stops learning.
Algebra beckons. Until tomorrow...
Craig Daliessio
Liberty University

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