You could forgive Darcius Linton Sr. for flaunting his new University of Akron alumni swag, including a ruby-adorned class ring and a gold pin.
It took him 23 years to earn them.
The 41-year-old will receive his bachelor’s degree in construction engineering technology this weekend more than two decades after he first enrolled at the university.
“It was something I needed to do, I wished I had done a long time ago,” Linton said.
The university will honor 2,662 graduates from 43 states and 31 countries during six commencement ceremonies this weekend.
For Linton, walking across the stage in his cap and gown will be the culmination of a journey marred with tragedy, but also brimming with determination.
“Online, night classes, it didn’t matter,” Linton said. “I had to graduate.”
After high school, Linton enrolled in the University of Akron in 1996 with dreams of a career in construction or architecture.
“I didn’t want to be stuck at just any old job,” he said. “I wanted to have a career and doing something that I love.”
A quick succession of life circumstances interfered with that plan.
In the summer of 1997, Linton’s close childhood friend was murdered. His grandfather died of cancer, and his dad was diagnosed with cancer as well.
Linton returned to school, but in the midst of bouts of depression, he also became a father that fall.
“How do I keep going?” Linton asked himself.
He stayed enrolled but his grades dipped too far, and he was forced to leave for academic reasons.
For 15 years, Linton worked two jobs and helped raise five more children. After an on-the-job construction injury, he’d finally had enough.
In 2013, his father encouraged him to go back to school.
“It was just something I had to do,” Linton said.
Linton, who lives in Cleveland, first enrolled in Cuyahoga Community College, where he earned an associates degree before transferring back to Akron.
His financial aid ran out just before his last year, but Akron supported him with scholarships, and he covered the rest.
On an average day, he was awake at 6 a.m., working until 3:30 p.m. before catching two buses from his job in Cleveland to Akron to go to class until 9 p.m. He would study into the night, sometimes only sleeping for two or three hours.
When his young children stayed with him, his responsibilities multiplied.
“I had to make bottles, I had to change diapers, I had to give baths,” he said.
The work meant time away from his children. But it was worth it, he said, particularly for his older children to now see his accomplishment.
“They understand the sacrifice I had to make, which was time,” Linton said. For them to be able to see this achievement come Sunday is just really remarkable.”
His father has since passed away, but Linton will have photos of him taped to his cap. His mother and stepmother will also be present to watch their son walk across the stage on Mother’s Day.
“My mom’s going to cry,” he said. “I already know. She’s going to cry. She’s been waiting for this for 23 years.”
Contact Jennifer Pignolet at email@example.com, 330-996-3216 or on Twitter @JenPignolet.