Four years ago, Scottie Gipson dropped out of high school. He was selling drugs. His dad was in prison. Hope was hard to find. But eventually, he got a job and went back to night school. We profiled Scottie and five other North Texas teens last fall in a radio/TV project called "Students Speak Out." Today, as part of KERA's American Graduate initiative, we catch up with Scottie -- on his graduation day.
There won’t be any graduation march in Lewisville for Scottie Gipson today. But he will celebrate, heading to Oklahoma with his brother in-law.
“Probably go up to a casino and blow some money,” he says, smiling. “Me and him manage a Papa Murphy’s.”
Four years ago, at age 15, Scottie couldn’t imagine this day. After barely one semester in high school, he dropped out. Dad was in and out of prison for drug possession.
“I was always disrespecting the teachers,” Scottie says. “Getting into fights. I was involved with drugs. I really didn’t have a choice. My parents -- they really weren’t there as far as income-wise and my mom barely made it through.”
Often home alone, Scottie was fending for himself. And two pitbulls.
“The dogs were like my family. They were always with me through thick and thin. If I ever needed someone there, you know, my dog was there.”
“The infamous Scottie Gipson,” says Bronson Lewis, associate principal of Lewisville’s Night High School, the campus for kids like Scottie.
“He was well-known in DAP, the district alternative certification program. He didn’t care about school.”
But Scottie looked at his life and had a talk with his sister, who’s eight years older.
“She asked me, ‘Do you want to end up like your dad?' I told her no. She said, 'Well, you need that high school diploma. You need to further your education. You’re not going to get anywhere without a high school diploma.'”
It was a tough climb, says Susan Shaw, Scottie's counselor at Night High School. When he came back to school at age 17, he had just three of the 22 credits needed to graduate.
“And so that’s really the lowest number that we’ve ever started a kid with,” Shaw said. “And the state of Texas doesn’t say 'OK, you have to have 22 credits unless you’ve had a horrible life and then you have to have 15.' It doesn’t say that.”
Shaw says one of her biggest jobs is getting kids like Scottie over their fears.
“People talk about the fear of failure,” Shaw says. “But they’re not afraid of that. They’ve failed. Everybody they know has failed. And so it’s the fear of success that’s really kind of new.”
The future is what Scottie’s thinking about now. He's recently married. A baby's on the way. He raced through night high school in a year-and-a-half and had plenty of motivation.
“My wife, you know I didn’t want her looking down at me,” Scottie says. “And then, you know in the future, I don’t’ want my baby knowing, you know, me over here, with nothing. I want my baby to look at me and see that I did the best I could and I would want them to do better.”
Lewis believes in him, and never more than when the teen came in one day saying he was about to drop out. His dad was headed back to prison and Scottie wanted to spend more time with him.
“He was hell bent on dropping out,” Lewis says. “'This is what I’m going to do.' And the only thing I said was, 'Do you think your dad would want you to drop out of school to spend time with him before he goes to prison?' Honestly, I didn’t expect to see him the next day and he was here the next day on time and that’s when I knew he was ready."
After graduating today, Scottie wants to get into Brookhaven Community College to study business. That, or maybe join the Army or Marines. And be a dad -- the baby’s due Sept. 15.