WACO, Texas (KWTX) William Flakes, 35, of Houston celebrated earning his Master of Social Work degree Friday afternoon at Baylor University.
Flakes is among the first cohort of students to graduate from Baylor's online advanced standing social work program in Houston.
He said he plans to start a non-profit for kids in his hometown of Houston.
"I never would've imagined a person from where I'm from would have made it to a place like Baylor but the fact that they took a shot on me I'm so grateful for that," he said.
Flakes grew up Houston's Third Ward community surrounded by violence and drugs.
He said he knew there was much more to life and one day imagined himself mentoring kids.
"Whenever I saw a kid that was in trouble I wanted to reach out and help them," he said.
Flakes graduated from high school in 2000.
It took him 15 years to earn his bachelors degree in social work from the University of Houston.
Along the way, he drove a truck to pay for college and worked for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
Flakes started Baylor's online masters program last year while continuing to drive.
He now owns his own trucking and transportation company and several times participated in class from the back of the cab in his truck by using a Jabber connection.
"A lot of times I just pulled right over and went to class right from my truck. I was trying to do the best I could with what I had and I was so hungry, motivated and dedicated. So I was willing to do whatever it took to get across the stage," he said.
He said one of his many mentors was associate professor Dr. Rob Rogers.
"It's that kind of energy and that kind of focus that made him so outstanding because he had purpose, he was on a mission, he was a man on a mission," Rogers said.
William has started his own non-profit called CORE (Center of Revitalization and Empowerment) back in Houston where he grew up, with the intention of working with at-risk youth and breaking the pipeline between school and prison.
He said he's now looking for more funding.
"I saw what failure looks like, I saw poverty looks like and I saw generational curses and I knew I wanted better for my children. I didn't want them to have them go through life experiencing the same thing that I experienced," he said.
Flakes will be one of more than 90 graduates to receive a diploma in social work.
Flakes may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.