When David first read the letter, his eyes immediately grew damp with happiness. It had been a virtual lifetime since he felt this exhilarated.
He could still barely believe what it all meant. Life had thrown him some cruel curveballs but after 35 years, he now had a once-in-a-lifetime second chance to change it all.
It was 1971 when David Carter last saw the inside of a lecture hall. In another life, he had once been an art major at the University of Texas, Austin.
Back then he was in his twenties and a promising young artist and writer. His future looked bright. That was until one event changed it all.
Like many young adults, David was once full of life and tended to be overzealous in the way he lived his. However, David was still living a carefree life back then.
As a typical college student in the prime of his life, David wasn’t shy about partying a bit too much. Back then he had no way of knowing how one mistake could end up costing him so much.
It happened when David was barely 23-years-old. David became embroiled in an “accident” involving alcohol that had dire consequences.
The fallout was swift. Aside from the disciplinary action he faced, his future as an artist was also affected by the fact that he badly injured his hand. It was all downhill from there.
With his future in doubt and his dreams in tatters, David spiraled from there. Before long he ended up being another statistic of substance abuse.
Things were already bad enough by this point. Struggling to hold his life together and still carve out some kind of future, David then received the bad news that sent him completely off track.
While he was still fairly young, David began experiencing terrible mood swings and even outright hallucinations. Even with attempts at treatment and medication, David’s condition worsened.
Any hope he had been desperately clinging to was swiftly taken away again. The final nail for David’s student dreams happened when he was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
It wasn’t long before David found himself without a home or any kind of support. Being left to fend for himself without a job, in addition to his debilitating habits and condition, David wound up on the street.
David accepted his lot and 35 long, painful years passed that way. David had given up all hope of ever changing his situation; until he met a very special young man.
Ryan Chandler was a young, local journalism student. While completing an assignment on the homeless problem in Austin, David met and began spending time with David.
Ryan was touched by David’s tragic story. In particular, David was moved by how positive David remained despite his extreme circumstances. It was clear to Ryan that the scholarly side of David still existed. He knew then that he had to do something to help.
As an ambitious young student at UT, Austin himself, Ryan could relate to David as a fellow “Longhorn”. According to David, he desperately wished to go back to school and complete a “degree in art history”.
After following up on his story, Ryan was flawed when he confirmed that David did indeed still have 102 credit hours completed on his academic record.
David’s story invoked a deep passion within Ryan to him to help him somehow. David was now 65 and bore all the scars of three decades of homelessness and substance abuse.
On the other hand, Ryan also learned that he was “clean” for six years and was even attempting to complete writing a book that he started 30 years ago. This was all Ryan needed to know and he began searching for ways to help David.
Searching for ways to help David wasn’t easy. With all the negative social stigma against homelessness and substance abuse, most people refused to help. The school itself was mired in bureaucratic processes that made it difficult to assist without outside help.
After spreading David’s story around, Ryan was later contacted by UT, Austin Alumnus Association who offered to help. Against all odds and with the help of the Alumnus, Ryan managed to pull off the unthinkable.
Ryan found David again to give him the big news. After explaining what he had arranged, he handed David copies of his old transcripts and an official letter. As David read through everything, he was overcome with emotion and cried tears of happiness.
With the Alumnus Association offering to pay the full tuition, unbelievably, Ryan had managed to secure David’s readmission to the University of Texas, Austin. After 35 long years, he would be able to finally complete his degree.
Since David still had so many credits completed, he would be required to complete one further year of study and could then attain his qualification.
Given David’s unique situation, further help was sought. Between other philanthropic persons and organizations, David was ensured that everything he needed to be a student again and attend classes would be taken care of.
David had previously explained to Ryan how his parents’ deaths had affected him. Other family members had “trashed” his belongings, including a collection of books that he had spent his life amassing.
It was clear that David still loved reading and academia. His story proves that sometimes, all a person really needs is a second chance and for someone to care enough to give them one.
In an article that Ryan later published about David, he aptly noted that “Many students at The University of Texas at Austin know David’s face, but few know his story. Some may see Carter and other panhandlers like him as out of place around campus.”
“Yet Carter feels right at home, because he’s one of them. Beneath his tousled hair, unkempt beard and worn leather jacket, Carter is a Longhorn.” Ryan continued to advocate for better conditions for homeless people and went on to start a successful career as a journalist.