On more nights than he’d like to remember, Deyonn Daniels waited for the building lights to dim, signaling an end to another day of classes at Broward College. When the few professors and students remaining on the A. Hugh Adams Central Campus in Davie wandered into the parking lots and faded out of sight, Deyonn retired to a dark and inconspicuous space on the campus that he had chosen to call home for the night. Some nights, he dozed unperturbed in a campus stairwell. If he was fortunate, he couched-surfed at friends’ homes until pride got the best of him, and he packed his duffle bag and moved on.

The trouble is Deyonn had a habit of refusing to ask for help. He’d rather go about the business of being just another student, his bereft circumstances unbeknownst to classmates, faculty, and staff. Nobody knew how badly Deyonn wanted to change his lot in life. Tired of devoting upward of 50 hours each week spreading mulch, trimming trees, and cutting grass, the former landscaper proved he would go any length to earn a degree, even if he had to eat, sleep, and breathe at Broward College.

Deyonn Daniels
Deyonn Daniels

Now, after five years in the shadows of homelessness, Deyonn has no other choice but to stand out and shine among his peers. In December, he will take part in Broward College commencement exercises, where he will officially receive an associate degree in Information Technology.

“Because I started, I didn’t want to give up,” said Deyonn, now 23. “I didn’t want people to question why I didn’t finish. I didn’t want that tag attached to me.”

Deyonn already knew what a bad latch was like. After graduating from Everglades High School in 2014, he moved in with his estranged father to work at his dad’s fledgling landscape business. The pair clashed often. Frustrated, Deyonn moved in with his mother in Miramar and enrolled in Broward College. To pay for his education, he got a job at a local grocery store.

“The money was good, but I had no focus,” said Deyonn. “I was just going through the motions.”

When he wasn’t working the cash register, Deyonn unloaded trucks. Struggling to find purpose, he lashed out at his mother during a drinking binge, and the two parted ways. With nowhere to go, Deyonn turned to the Get Real program at Broward College, which awards scholarships to students from challenging backgrounds.

The scholarship helped, covering the costs of tuition and books, but Deyonn still had to provide for his living expenses. He got a job on campus as a stagehand at Bailey Hall and, in some respects, made himself at home.

“I would sleep anywhere I could rest my head,” said Deyonn, who credits his devout faith and friend, Brandon Gibson, an alumnus of the Get Real program, for preserving. “Anywhere, so that I could have enough energy for the next day.”

Sometimes, Deyonn was locked out of buildings. Sometimes he was stuck in the rain, but his unmatched resolve would not be dampened.

Today, Deyonn fuels his interest in computers through a job with the information technology department at Broward College’s Cypress Creek Campus.  He is part of a team responsible for rolling out a new website. Someday, Deyonn hopes to open his own website design company and help change someone else’s life. Until then, he will, at the very least, take satisfaction in his.

Deyonn Daniels
Deyonn Daniels (right)

“I feel like a champion, a gladiator who has won the fight,” said Deyonn, who had to be convinced to participate in the graduation where his mother, with who he reconciled, will cheer on her son from a seat at Hard Rock Live. “Things got hard, but I had a vision, and I believed in it.”

Have health, economic, or social circumstances forced you to put your academic goals on hold? You may be eligible for scholarships that can reopen doors to higher education. Here’s how.

For more information about Get REAL! contact Olivia Sarson at osarson@broward.edu or call (954) 201-7027.