The distance from Miami Jackson Senior High School to Florida International University is 21 miles. For Terrence Nickerson, traveling that distance has been an epic journey.
Nickerson has gone from homeless to college graduate, thanks to his own perseverance and FIU’S unique Fostering Panther Pride program, which provides housing and support for homeless students.
"I feel excited, I feel really, really excited, a little nervous at first, but I’m really excited,” Nickerson said at FIU’S commencement exercises Wednesday night.
To say Nickerson took the hard road to a degree in organizational communications would be an understatement.
"OK, well it wasn’t easy at first, just getting to college was a challenge in and of itself, you know with exams and stuff but I had lots of incredible help to get me this far,” Nickerson said.
For example, it’s good to have the superintendent in your corner as a mentor.
“I, too, was homeless in this community, so I traveled the same journey, that was the point of connection between us,” said Miami-Dade Public Schools superintendent Alberto Carvalho. “There are 9,000 homeless kids in our community, there are thousands who are growing up in poverty in very, very difficult, fragile conditions, Terrence sends a powerful message that you can do it if you put your mind to it.”
In high school, Nickerson lived in a homeless shelter by himself, with no parents to help him or guide him. He walked to Jackson High every day, and relied on help from the staff there, as well as social workers from the Chapman Partnership.
“Right now, I’m in a shelter, right now, that does not define me,” Terrence told NBC 6 in 2016, when we featured him in our SWAG on 6 series on outstanding high school students.
“This kid is gonna go far, we’re gonna see him five or ten years from now doing great things,” said school social worker Lavanda Simpkins at the time.
So those who knew him knew Nickerson would reach the milestone of college graduation. Carvalho has known him for six years, and even took Nickerson to buy a new suit this week.
“He’s got grit, determination, he’s a courageous kid, never frowns, his smile is infectious,” Carvalho said. “He’s a bright light during a contentious time.”
“I’m still young so there’s a lot for me to learn, so I’m just hoping that I can keep growing,” Nickerson said last night.