LeRoy Langston stands out from the crowd of cap-and-gown honorees graduating from the University of Central Florida.
Perhaps it’s his age. At 64, he doesn’t fit the profile of a young adult chasing life dreams.
His past doesn’t fit neatly into standard narratives, either. Langston has a long history of crime and drug use, which takes us back to the age thing.
Langston is the proverbial late bloomer. A man who went on a self-destructive path for much of this life, only to hit an inspiring reset button while becoming a much wiser older man.
Hence the diploma: A bachelor’s degree in integrative general studies.
“I really want to be an addiction counselor, that’s my ambition,” Langston told ucf.edu. “I realize that is going to be another challenge because I can see how some people may not want to bring a 64-year-old intern into their organization. I’m a learner and I’m still learning how to trust and have faith in God in regard to what it looks like down the road, but I know God got me.”
Langston grew up in DeLand, Florida, facing challenges at an early age. His mother died when he was young. His dad was left to raise Langston and three siblings alone. But he was a troubled man, and a gambler.
Langston would eventually go down that dark spiral too. At 17, he joined one of his sister’s boyfriends robbing a bar in New Smyrna Beach. He was arrested and convicted as an adult and sentenced to 15 years in prison.
The downward spiral continued into the 1980s, when Langston began using cocaine. In 1989, Langston was arrested selling cocaine. The pattern of using and selling continued for the next 15 years. He would be arrested five more times and develop congestive heart failure.
Finally, in 2013, Langston was able to make the life change he desperately needed. After seeking shelter and help at the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida and staying clean for his first three weeks, Langston enrolled in a rehabilitation program, eventually becoming a teaching aid for the GED program offered there.
That led to courses at Valencia College, where the uphill climb continued.
“After being out of school for 40 years and coming back my first semester I flunked every one of those classes,” he said. “They wanted to know what was going on and I explained I had been out of school for 40 years and they allowed me to continue on.”
His persistence would pay off: Langston transferred to UCF in 2018. His daily routine included a two-hour commute by bus to and from the main campus and using the library computers to complete his coursework.
That led to the final steps of his inspiring journey: A college degree.
His message for the rest of us is right out of the Growing Boler playbook.
“Don’t give up, keep pushing,” he said. “I learned it isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress. And I found out that progress for an addict is not using [drugs] because life can go one way and then another, but as long as you stay clean — which is not an easy journey — you’ll be able to think clearly and take life as it comes.”
Congratulations to LeRoy Langston and everyone in the class of 2021!