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ST. LOUIS – A six-mile walk for an eighth grader to his graduation ceremony may have secured his academic future.

“I remember something Mr. Seals told me. He said, ‘If I want it, I got to go get it,'” said Xavier Jones. “So, I wanted to graduate, so I was going to go to my graduation.”

When the 14-year-old didn’t have a way to get to his Wednesday’s Yeatman Middle School eighth-grade graduation ceremony, he enlisted the help of his brother and a friend. They walked from West Florissant up in north St. Louis to Midtown. Jones’ journey took more than 10,000 steps in two and a half hours. Then it got him his diploma.

“I had to stop my speech and call him on board and was like, ‘Hey, everybody get off your feet and give him a standing ovation,'” said Darren Seals, Jones’s mentor. “They clapped for him. They were like, ‘Woah, this boy walked.'”

President of Harris-Stowe State University, Dr. Latonia Collins Smith, stopped by the ceremony that was being held at the HBCU campus and was moved by Jones’s determination. She decided to take a few extra steps of her own.

“When I heard that story and to see that young man who was so bright and excited and driven,” Collins Smith said. “It spoke volumes to me. It spoke resilience, persistence, perseverance. Regardless of what the adversity is, I’m going to press my way to this promotion ceremony. So that is what sparked my interest in saying, ‘Hey, this is the type of kid that we want to recruit to Harris-Stowe.”

“She said, ‘You got a full ride,’ and I said, ‘Do you know what that means,’ and he said, ‘They’re going to give me a ride to school?'” Seals said. “I was like, ‘No, you’re getting a ride to college. He said, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t have to pay for college. Then it started hitting him.”

The president’s scholarship from Harris-Stowe covers four years of tuition, books, and fees for a student. It will be waiting for Jones, who must first complete the next journey-high school.

“I’m going to achieve something great by graduating just like everybody else. I want to be a NASCAR driver,” Jones said.