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Student rises above lifelong adversity, poverty

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The Appalachian Online

Tony Walker, senior business management major and ACCESS student, was awarded the Kenneth E. Peacock Spirit of ACCESS award for not only his academic successes, but equally in his battles with adversity throughout his college career.

The Spirit of ACCESS award includes an honorary medallion to be worn at graduation, along with a $1,000 scholarship to aid in the transition from college to the professional world. The award is given to candidates who have risen above the limits that poverty creates, while also taking advantage of all opportunities the program has to offer.

This year, the winner was no exception. His story begins in a two bedroom home in King’s Mountain, North Carolina, shared between seven people, where he lived in a room with his mother, brother and uncle.

“There were only two incomes for the house,” Walker wrote in his essay, “which amassed to around $19,000 a year.”

Most college students are excited to return home and to sleep in their own bed. When Walker goes home, he says he has only his recliner to sleep in.

Despite his circumstances, Walker was an exemplary student from the beginning. He finished high school with a 4.72 GPA, graduating sixth in his class of over 400 students, and had earned 59 credit hours for college level courses by taking advanced placement classes. He is now ending his college career with a 3.92 GPA, remaining on the Dean’s and Chancellor’s list nearly his entire time here.

“I was dedicated to perfection,” he writes, “but I had no clue where it was going to take me in life.”

Walker said he promised himself he would never live in the same conditions that he grew up in.

But while in high school, he never saw higher education as an option financially. He always saw himself seeking labor or service based employment after graduation.

His high school saw his potential and encouraged him to apply to just a few schools. Due to his free and reduced lunch, Walker was able to waive the application fees that many colleges charge. He applied to four universities, including Appalachian, UNC-Chapel Hill, East Carolina University and UNC Wilmington.

He was accepted to all four schools. Soon after, Appalachian sent him a letter in which he was informed he could attend college debt-free through the ACCESS program. Walker saw, for the first time in his life, a potential future for himself.

“When I signed on to come to App State, I had no idea what I was getting into,” Walker wrote in his essay. “This was uncharted waters. No one in my family even finished high school, much less set foot in a college classroom.”

He credits much of his success to help from the ACCESS program, specifically the advisors who worked closely with him.

“The most crucial aspect that ACCESS offered me was my advisor, Katie Schacht,” he said. “She wasn’t only my advisor, she was my best friend at Appalachian.”

Both Walker’s mother and father struggled with drug abuse related issues while he was growing up and during his time here at Appalachian. During his sophomore year, his father attempted suicide. Walker felt trapped and helpless while at school. He happened to have an advising appointment the same day.

“I went in to talk to [Schacht] and I just broke down and started crying,” Walker said. “While I was crying, she got on the phone and called all of my professors. She personally drove me home, and I was able to spend a week with my family. If I hadn’t [had] that approval from my professors, I probably would’ve quit college right in that moment.”

When Schacht left Appalachian, Adam Warren, an academic advisor, inherited her group of advisees.

“When I met him, he was coming off of another perfect semester and entering his senior year with a marvelous GPA,” Warren said. “He related his story to me and I was moved. His pathway to college has not been an easy one, nor one that came quickly. Tony has had to work hard for everything he has achieved and it shows in his work ethic.”

Tony not only devoted ample amounts of time to his academics throughout high school and college, but he has also been working in the restaurant business since he was 14 years old. He works 45 hours a week ­ 21 with the library and 24 at Waffle House on the weekends, where he is now training to be a manager.

In three months’ time, he will be earning $54,000 a year, with promotional opportunities allowing him the possibility to earn much more after just three years of experience.

“When you tell people, ‘I went to college for four years to work for Waffle House’ it’s hard to explain to them but I’ll be making plenty of money, so don’t worry about me,” Walker said.

Walker wants to save up money so that he can start his own business, possibly a restaurant. He said the entrepreneur classes he’s taken while in school have expanded his mind.

As for those back home, Walker isn’t planning on moving back to King’s Mountain anytime soon. He’s in Boone for just three more months to finish his managerial training, but after that, Waffle House will place him anywhere in the nation.

Walker said he will always help his family no matter what and can only hope to be a role model to his younger siblings and cousins, just to prove to them that it’s never too late to succeed, regardless of circumstance.

“In our advising meetings, the conversations were always about the future, specifically about where he was going, what careers he will pursue, what he desires to achieve in life,” said Warren, “Tony has always been driven and he’ll continue to be great.”

Story: Jordan Boles, Intern News Reporter

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