When Niketas Koussis walks across the stage this week to accept his associate degree from Northern Virginia Community College, it won’t mark an ending, but rather the beginning of a life that he once dreamed of.
“When I got to community college, I got a second chance,” said Niketas, a Best Buy employee. “I wasn’t going to waste it.”
He will graduate with a 3.98 GPA, a big change from the 3.0 student he was in high school. He is one of 20 people chosen out of 2,000 as a top U.S. community college student, and he has received prestigious scholarships. But grades alone don’t tell the full story.
In sixth grade, Niketa’s mom lost her job. They became homeless, moving from shelter to motels and, at one point, living in their car. Sometimes the only meal he ate was the free lunch at school. He tried to keep up with homework because he knew deep down that he was blessed with intellect. But his home life kept him from shining in the classroom.
“I used to ask my mom ‘Do you think we’ll be able to celebrate Christmas this year in a house?’ Every year she’d say, ‘Wait until next year,’” he said. “And then finally my junior year of high school we got to experience that.”
Once they found a home, Niketas started a job at Best Buy to help support his family. His grades improved enough to get into community college, where he took 19 credits a semester using Best Buy’s tuition reimbursement program and worked full-time. He even led student groups, including a national honor society.
“He’s always so upbeat and always so positive,” said Myles Eldreth, a professor who advised Niketas. “He has taught me a lot about life. I’ve always struggled with thinking about the glass being half full or half empty, and every time I talk to him, he reminds me to see life as full.”
Niketas always believed that things would get better, even as he did homework in the back seat of the family car. In the fall, he’ll begin a new chapter at the University of Virginia, where he wants to study business. He plans to start a nonprofit to help students like him.
“I’m very thankful for what I went through because it was very humbling, and I wouldn’t be the same person,” he said, “I understand that even though I had it hard, there are kids, especially overseas, that have it harder. What I want to do is give others the chance that I have to get an education.”
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