Not long after he left prison with a GED, Thomas Daniels lost his son to street violence. He resisted the urge for revenge and decided instead to work professionally with grieving dads.
To do that he needed to go to college.
Thursday evening Daniels (pictured) walked down the aisle in bright blue gown and mortar board to receive an associate of arts degree in human services.
He marched in a long celebratory blue line of graduates who participated in Gateway Community College’s 21st commencement exercises.
With 978 students in all disciplines, the class of 2013 was the largest in the history of Gateway and the first since the college’s move into its new downtown campus.
About 400 students participated in person including nursing graduates Cindy Godfrey and Nichole Dellaselva (pictured).
They became best friends when they bonded in a psych course during their last year of Gateway’s demanding nurse training.
“In nursing school you have to be a family, it’s so tough,” said Godfrey, who juggled a young child and husband to launch herself from working as a medical assistant at Yale-New Haven Hospital into becoming a full-fledged nurse.
The students snapped pictures, hugged relatives, and thanked teachers, mingling under threatening skies until they processed, organized in sections by majors, into Yale University’s Woolsey Hall.
Among the speakers was New Haven Mayor John DeStefano.
“I usually say ‘what happens downtown stays downtown.’ I say to you, ‘What happens downtown, take it to the world,’” DeStefano told the graduates.
Yale-New Haven Hospital President and CEO Marna Borgstrom was the main speaker. She said her hospital’s high confidence in hiring Gateway graduates derives from knowing that they emerge from school knowing how to balance their professional and family obligations.
An example: Cindy Godfrey had to give up her full-time job and begin to work per diem in order to study 14 hours a week during the last two years of her nursing program. There were financial hardships in making the mortgage on their home in West Haven. Her husband and her 7-year-old gave her the support she needed.
On Thursday, her teachers officially welcomed her into their ranks with a pinning ceremony at the college. Godfrey’s little daughter told her: “I’m glad I’m getting my mommy back.”
“I’m glad I’m getting my wife back,” added her husband Erastus.
Fathers Cry Too
“My son’s death made me take proactive action,” he said. Click here for an article in which Daniels describes taking care of his son as his main motivation for staying out of prison.
His next stop is enrolling at Southern Connecticut State University, where he intends to graduate with a bachelor’s degree in social work.