A Missouri teenager walked 6 miles to attend his eighth-grade graduation and his drive to experience the commencement exercises secured his future.
Xavier Jones, 14 years old, didn’t have a ride at that time, so he made a plan to make it to his graduation. He asked his brother and a friend to travel with him from Florissant Avenue to Harris Stowe State University, a two-and-a-half hour journey by foot.
“If you want something done, you gotta go ahead and do it yourself,” said Jones, remembering the advice of a mentor at Yeatman Middle School. Together, the three young men walked more than 10,000 steps through St. Louis to the school so Jones could walk up the stage and get his diploma.
If you want something done, you gotta go ahead and do it yourself. —Xavier Jones
“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,” shared Jones. “I wanted to walk across the stage.”
When he arrived during the ceremony, his mentor, Darren Seals, was delivering a speech to the graduates. When he learned about Jones’ trip, he paused his talk to inform the audience.
“I had to stop my speech and call him on board and was like,’Hey, everybody get off your feet and give him a standing ovation,'” Mr. Seals said. “They clapped for him. They were like, ‘Woah, this boy walked.'”
Harris Stowe State University appreciated the young man’s perseverance and determination that they awarded him with a presidential scholarship. The university will pay for Jones’ tuition for four years, books, rent, and other fees.
“Many of our students come with a story and many of our students come with environmental barriers they have overcome or that they are currently overcoming,” President of Harris Stowe University, Dr. Latonia Collins Smith said.
Mr. Seals shared the story of how the university president offered the scholarship. “She said, ‘You got a full ride,’ and I said [to Xavier], ‘Do you know what that means,’ and he said, ‘They’re going to give me a ride to school?'” Seals said. “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.”
President Colllins Smith revealed that many students in the region face different obstacles and Jones’ losing a ride was just an example. “I just led with my heart and I followed my heart and my heart said this is a kid that needs a scholarship,” she added.
Following the graduation, Jones received a personal tour of the campus. “It means that I’m going to do something great and that I finally made it out of the 8th grade,” he said. “There’s a lot of fun stuff you can do at this campus.”
Jones’ sweet story didn’t finish with the scholarship. Miami Dolphins NFL player Terron Armstead, who grew up in an area similar to Jones, was touched by the student’s story. The NFL star gifted the Jones family a minivan and gave Xavier an electric bike so transportation will never be a problem when he goes to university.
“His grandad is disabled,” Armstead said. “[They] don’t have any means of transportation. So the whole family is really walking to get any and everywhere…Follow Xavier’s example. He’s a leader, whether he wanted to be or not, he is. His story is inspiring. It’s motivating. That’s what leaders do.”
Jones’ grandfather remarked, “This means a whole lot. I don’t know what to say. I’m so thankful.” He has raised Xavier and his siblings since they lost their mother some years ago.
“To be some form of hope and inspiration to the community. We hear a story like Xavier, it’s only right,” Armstead noted. “It’s humbling, it’s motivating, it’s inspiring.”
President Collins Smith concluded, “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.”