A lot of kids walk to school. Terrence Nickerson walks to his happy place. School is a respite from life in a homeless shelter.
"Right now, I'm in a shelter right now; that does not define me," Terrence said.
Call him a striver, a hard worker, a college-bound senior at Miami Jackson Senior High School, just don't label Terrence as just another homeless kid with no hope for success.
"If you think about the fact that you're in a shelter, if you think about the fact that you don't have a home, you're sort of letting the bad catch up to you and it holds you back," Terrence explained.
Terrence's mom died five years ago, then his stepfather kicked him out, and now Terrence has no family support structure, no parents to help with homework, no one to take him shopping, no mom or dad to prod him along. The people at Jackson High are his family.
"Inspiring, this is a kid who has every reason in the book to drop out of school, to not do the right thing, to get in trouble, but he doesn't do any of that, he sticks with it, he perseveres, he's here every day, he's smiling," marveled Lavanda Simpkins, the school social worker. "He's one of those kids that you're like, this is why I do this job."
Ask anyone there about Terrence, and you hear the same thing: he's always smiling, always has a positive attitude, despite all the burdens he carries.
"He's just an outstanding kid, he's been through so much in his life, so much adversity and he still manages to do well in school, he always has a smile on his face," said Jessiann Sanchez, the school's graduation coach and one of Terrence's defacto guardians. "He pulls on your heart strings, he wants to succeed and he wants to get out of his situation."
Terrence is the living, breathing definition of self-motivation. He inspires his friends with his determination to make it.
"You always see him in the hall, walking around, you don't even notice if he's homeless or not, he's always happy and positive," said Tarvis Williams, a fellow senior and one of Terrence's friends. "He doesn't want to sit and sulk, his mindset is to think positive."
If there's an ounce of self-pity in Terrence, you'd never know it. He'd rather give advice to others on how to overcome adversity.
"Just reaching out, a lot of doors can open for you," Terrence said. "It all starts with you actually helping yourself."
He's hoping to enroll at FIU in the fall, in a special program for foster and homeless youth. Terrence wants to study computer science.
"This kid is going to go far, we're going to see him five years, ten years from now doing great things," Simpkins said.
Terrence Nickerson is on his way, charting his own path, determined to keep moving forward.
SWAG on 6 (Students Working At Greatness) is a feature on NBC 6 highlighting students who rise against all odds and continue to succeed.