Michael Jeffery, a Washington, D.C., man who spent two years living in a tent just received the valedictorian award from a free high school for adults.
Jeffery lost his job at Waffle House and a clothing firm, as well as his house – during The COVID-19 pandemic, and reluctantly resorted to camping up beneath a bridge in the Navy Yard district.
He told NBC 4 Washington, “I didn’t want to be stuck out here, I don’t wish this on anybody, to be stuck out here.” He added, “We don’t want pity. A lot of people in this situation [are] just like me. We want better, we want more.”
In 2022, he got enrolled at the Goodwill Excel Center, a free high school for adults, out of desperation to change his circumstances.
Jeffery continued to live in a tent throughout the academic year, attending classes and studying.
He graduated last Friday from the National Press Club as one of 56 students from the adult charter high school Goodwill Excel Center High School in Washington, D.C., which offers the chance to earn a high school diploma and a certificate, rather than a GED.
As valedictorian, he spoke to his classmates and recalled his decision to go to Washington, D.C. to change the narrative of his story.
Jeffrey commuted by bus to The Excel Center’s campus near the White House after enrolling there. He saw it as a second chance to earn his high school diploma, which he said was something he had long desired. He added, “I just had to push myself.” “I can’t give up. I’m not a quitter.”
The curriculum typically lasts two years, however, Jeffrey was able to complete it in just one year. He strived to get a tutor or other resources if he didn’t understand a concept in class and frequently received excellent grades.
He thanked the school for assisting him in his quest for education during his address, “A lot of people don’t get that second chance, and Goodwill allowed that second chance for me, and I appreciate that,” he said.
To the graduates between the ages of 17 and 68, he said, “Nothing worthwhile is easy.”
In pursuit of his goal to eventually become a lawyer, Jeffrey plans to enroll at Catholic University in the fall. He’s also relocating from the tent to an apartment.
“I just want to continue getting knowledge,” Jeffrey told WTOP. “At first, it was all about money. Now, I just want to gain knowledge. I’ve been at peace when I’m chasing knowledge instead of money.”