From homeless to graduate: HVCC student prepares to walk across the stage

TROY, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Graduation will come after an incredible journey of perseverance for one Hudson Valley Community College student.

“We call it the grind, but I guess another term would be tenacity,” Mark Riley said.

It’s a trait Riley brought with him from Harlem when he came to study at HVCC.

“No one will be able to say they gave me my degree,” he said. “I earned it.”

In Fall 2015, Riley was studying liberal arts and staying with a family member.

“There’s a lot of unique components about my experience but living was one of them,” he said.

Things changed and suddenly Riley didn’t have a place to stay, which left him with a difficult decision.

“The option of using that money to pay for school or find an apartment,” he said.

He called his mom ready to pack up and come home.

“She said, ‘No, you’re not; not without a degree,’” he recalled.

So he parked his car near the 24-hour library on campus and continued his studies.

“When it was too cold, I got out went into the library and started to study, and when I got tired I went back and forth,” he said.

Perhaps a difficult decision for some but not for Riley.

“Whether I was going to focus on the now or my tomorrow,” he said.

He made the President’s List that semester, and he was on the Dean’s List the following semester.

“I wanted it bad enough, and I did what I had to do to get it,” Riley said.

Riley credits a lot of his success to the CASP program on campus that helps students with academic and personal growth as well as his mentor Roy Pompey.

“It’s an environment to feel safe in, so everybody can talk about their different experiences and perspectives,” he said.

But Riley said living out of his car wasn’t even the biggest hurdle of his education.

“Working two jobs, going to school full time, being able to balance life, school work,” he said.

And he doesn’t regret a thing.

“It makes you appreciate it that much more, and like I said, it humbles you because when you finally get there to walk across that stage, you know you earned this,” he said.

Riley has been accepted to Morehouse College and plans to start in the fall.

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