50-year-old ex-convict defies odds to become college graduate

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- From three-time prison inmate to college graduate. 

"I'm still pinching myself," said Chauncey Burnett, Spalding University Graduate. This weekend, a former drug addict's journey to sobriety ends with a college degree.

Burnett is 50 years old, but now he is also a proud Spalding graduate. But it was a long road to get to wear the cap and gown. 

"Got locked up and went to penitentiary at 17 years old," he said. 

Burnett spent 14 years in and out of prison and struggled with drug abuse for years, but his loved ones, like his mother, helped motivate him to change.

"I could see the pain on her face," he said.

After years of using and dealing drugs and three trips to the penitentiary, Burnett got a painful wake up call.

"I can remember my mother getting so upset and so mad and just saying one time or another, I just wish you guys weren't here," Burnett said.

Burnett eventually enrolled in college and started the process of getting clean and turning his life around. But he admits he had a lot of convincing to do, and that started with his biggest fan.

"My mother would tell anyone, 'he's nice looking, he's a good boy, he can do anything but he's slick,'" he said.

For the last several years, Burnett has been proving his mother right, when it comes to what he can do. Not only is he graduating with a 4.0 GPA, but he has already been accepted into graduate school.

"He could have gotten into any graduate school," said Dr. Shannon Cambron EdD, MSW and acting chair School of Social Work at Spalding. "He is inspiring and exhausting."

Cambron also says Burnett outworks everyone around him, even his professors.

"If you tell Chauncey to read 10 pages, he is not going to love it, but he is probably going to read 20."

His mother and some others didn't live to see him graduate this weekend, but Burnett will walk as though they're watching.

"(I) know they are the angels looking down on me and guiding me," he said.

After graduate school, Burnett says he wants to help other drug dealers and users avoid going to prison, or worse.

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