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After Dropping Out of School in Third Grade, Colorado Man Attends College: 'I Decided to Work Harder'

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Lynn Lipinski/USC Photo

It was a long and uncertain road, but 28-year-old Stephen Guy has fulfilled his dream of going to college.

Nearly 20 years after being yanked out of the third grade by his mom after his father died in 1995, Guy was admitted into the University of Southern California’s prestigious Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

Now, Guy, of Colorado Springs, Colorado, is looking back on his incredible journey.

“I really missed the social part of school. I had no friends my age,” he told USC News. “I just wanted a normal life.”

Guy’s upbringing was anything but normal. He told the college news site that his mom, who he says suffered from mental health issues, was convinced the government was watching her and trying to kill her, leading both of them on a 10-year cross-country trek in the family car – a silver Chevrolet Corsica.

When the car died and money fell short, they traveled by bus and slept in cheap motels; occasionally they’d stay with a relative, but never long enough for Guy to go to school.

“I wasn’t really home-schooled,” he said. “I didn’t know the state capitals. I didn’t know math.” Instead, Guy filled his time reading Harry Potter books and playing video games.

In 2005, Guy and his mom returned to Colorado Springs and lived in an apartment near his older brother, but once again, his mom took off.

“Our mother just could not sit still,” John Martinez told USC News.

Guy landed a job at Wal-Mart and temporarily moved in with his brother (then a single dad) and helped care for his four children. Eventually, he was able to afford living on his own, and while it “felt really good,” he remained frustrated with his life.

“I didn’t have a clear vision then of what I wanted to do, just a sense of ‘not this,’ ” he said.

His friends at Wal-Mart nudged him to enroll at the local Pikes Peak Community College.

Anxiety-ridden, Guy first signed up for school in a shopping mall that offered free GED test preparation, since he hadn’t completed elementary school, let alone middle school or high school.

“The instructors were calm and kind,” he said. “But for me, it was nerve-racking. I remember not knowing where to go. I didn’t have a book. I just came with paper and a pen,” he told USC News. Guy also said his new friends helped along the way – some tutored and another took him to meet a Pikes Peak adviser.

Four months later, his GED exam score landed him in the 92-to-98 percentile. He then enrolled in an online math class and intro to English; his first paper scored a 75.

“There was a choice to make,” he said. “I decided to work harder.”

Guy’s received a 95 on his next two papers and he threw himself into campus life. He started the school’s anthropology club, took leadership roles within the honor society Phi Theta Kappa and helped organize events for CollegeFish, a program funded by a $3 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help community college students transfer to four-year schools. Guy ultimately decided to apply to USC.

And on May 30, he found a large package from the college in his mailbox.

“I was super excited, but I also figured that I couldn’t afford it,” he said, unaware that a few days later a financial aid package would change everything. In addition to a Pell Grant and other funding, Guy won a needs-based University Grant worth $47,000.

“He blew my phone up with text messages,” said Jessica Johnson, Guy’s friend and a Pikes Peak alum. “It was a dream for him. USC was his number one choice.”

Guy said he waited to tell his brother in person. “He went nuts when I told him. Crazy proud, in a good way,” he shared.

“Getting into USC is such an accomplishment,” said Martinez. “We were very surprised – and very proud. I know Stephen’s found his place there.”

Guy made one more move – this time by choice – to Los Angeles, California. He said he wishes he could tell his mom of his accomplishment, but he doesn’t know where she is or how to find her.

Despite his jitters and his sadness at not being able to share his victory with his mom, Guy said he plans to use his past to fuel his future.

“USC is investing in me,” he said.