Student is awarded first ‘Building Traditions Service Scholarship
At 33, Thomas Carter’s body started telling him he couldn’t work manual labor jobs until he was 60. His body, ironically, was confirming something his mind already knew. There was more out there. There was a better path, and he wanted to take it.
Getting on the right path, however, was something foreign to him. “I didn’t come from a college-going family and the desire to go to college wasn’t even fostered in me,” Carter says today, reflecting on his past. “I just didn’t think I could.”
Carter’s wife, Dee, convinced him he could, and within a short time, he was enrolled at Oklahoma State University’s campus in Okmulgee. He was driven to finish and a year-and-a-half later, he finished his associate’s degree.
The next step was completing a four-year degree. Carter says he knew it would open doors for him and lead to a more secure future for his family. He was admitted to Northeast Oklahoma State in Tallaquah, but an unplanned trip to Dallas-Fort Worth for job training opened his eyes to other possibilities.
“We really liked it here because of all of the opportunities,” Carter says. “A little while later we were packing our things to move here permanently.”
In an area with more than a dozen universities, many of them with long histories and established programs, Carter investigated the possibility of attending UNT Dallas. A few months later, he was enrolled in the sociology degree program.
“All of the pieces fit together,” Carter says. “The diversity of the people of the campus was important to me. I had lived in a small town where there was a lot of division. We didn’t want that for our children.”
UNT Dallas was also new in the area. It was growing. It was changing. In a way, Carter says, the university was practically just like him.
“I’m intent on doing this for my kids,” Carter says. “They see me get on the train every day, spending the time and effort (two hours each day) just to get to the school. They see me do homework. It is good for them to see me doing it. They call it ‘Big Boy School.’”
In fact, Carter says he has already begun to hear his children, Clayton, 7, and Chloe, 6, talk about where they will be going to college in the future.
“It is clearly an important part of what they are looking for in the future for themselves now,” Carter says, expressing a sense of relief that, if his children get a strong education and go to college, the mountains in their lives may be a lot easier to climb.
Carter said he sees some sort of social work or counseling in his future following his graduation in the summer of 2013, though he is still evaluating his options. He is already getting experience in the area.
He and his family joined First Baptist Church of Garland and he dove into the “Friendship House” ministry at the church. It offers food, clothing, homeless assistance, and takes donations of furniture and other goods. Sometimes, he says, his job “is just to buy groceries, $1000 at a time, and give them away.”
He also works in the church’s Wednesday night GED program (he earned his GED at age 23). “Church is more than a social gathering. Religious organizations need to get outside the doors to help,” Carter says.
Carter says he knows that many of the people he encounters in the church’s ministries are struggling to make ends meet. He has been there.
“Everything I did until I was 33 I did with my hands. I take from those experiences the knowledge of what other people go through. I know what it is like to work hard for nothing … even though you do your best at it,” Carter says. “I want to convey the message to them that your situation doesn’t determine your future. I want to help other people get where they want to go.”
In the summer of 2012, Carter was selected as the inaugural recipient of the UNT Dallas Building Traditions Service Scholarship, presented by the University Advancement Council in the amount of $2,000. The scholarship committee awarded the scholarship because, it noted, Carter truly embodies “the mission and vision of the Council and the university it serves.”
For Carter, the scholarship provided “makes it all possible.” With his PELL grants and a few small loans, he is able to focus full-time on his studies at UNT Dallas and raising his children. He says he wants his children (and the third on the way) to see that he always puts the family first.
“We can’t neglect the kids to do this,” Carter says. “I want them to see that we are willing to sacrifice now and that I value their future more than I do mine.”