MIAMI (WSVN) - A South Florida man took the stage, Saturday, to get his postgraduate degree. His journey was more difficult than most.
Applause erupted at the James L. Knight Convention Center in Downtown Miami when George Walker’s name was called out, this time with a new prefix: doctor.
Walker, one of Barry University’s newest Ph.D. graduates, marched to the stage to take his diploma.
The moment was a personal triumph in a life full of adversity.
Speaking with 7News on Friday, he said those obstacles began early. “I was an orphan. My parents both died by the time I was 4,” he said.
Walker was raised by his aunts in Harlem, New York. He earned A’s in school but, by his own admission, failed socially.
“I did exceptionally well in school, academically, but I didn’t do so well in other areas, behaviorally,” he said.
Walker’s SAT scores were in the top 4 percent of the country — back in 1968. Colleges wanted him nationwide, but soon after choosing one in Connecticut, he quit to join the Black Panther Party.
“I left school. I was arrested with some of my peers in San Francisco,” he said. “We were the ‘Connecticut Six.'”
Walker no longer wanted to have a part in politics and returned home to New York.
It was a homecoming he welcomed with an addiction to heroin.
“I lived on the streets the last 10 years. I used in the 90s,” he said. “I was on the streets of New York smoking crack, sleeping on the subway, in the park, wherever.”
Walker was in and out of prison, staying away from his family for decades. “I spent 13 years in prisons — robberies, bank robberies, multiple marriages,” he said.
His addiction lasted almost 40 years before he moved to a halfway house in Boca Raton. That’s when he applied to Barry University’s master’s program in Miami Shores.
Walker had just been denied by another college for his unconventional past.
“We like to say that we give people an opportunity who might not have been given an opportunity in other institutions,” said Jill Farrell, Dean of Barry’s Adrian Dominican School of Education. “We accept people for who they are and what they bring to the table.”
As George Walker becomes Dr. Walker, even his professors noticed his growth. “I’ve seen him be cautious, be afraid to taking risks to being at a point where is now confident in what he can do,” said Dr. Sylvia Fernandez, who taught Walker.
“Again, I’m at home here,” said Walker. “For somebody who has spent most of my life wandering, that means a lot.”
Walked studied mental health counseling. He wants to be a professor.
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