Graduate honors great-grandmother's wish with diploma

A teen who dropped out to help care for an elderly relative finally gets his diploma.

Nothing has come easily for Justin Walker.

The 19-year old will graduate from Catapult Academy on May 30 and his journey to the diploma was filled with stumbling blocks.

“I’m really excited to get up on the stage and hear my name called and get my actual diploma,” he said from Catapult Academy on Friday morning. 

In 2015, Justin attended Chamberlain High School in Tampa and lived with his mom. He juggled a job and school work while trying to maintain good grades.

Ultimately, the teenager who teachers describe as “tech savvy kid” had to leave Chamberlain a few credits short of his diploma.

He began working six days a week to fulfill a promise he made to his great-grandmother, Pauline Barnhill.

Justin and his mom, who were the primary caregivers for his great grandmother, promised that they would never put her in a nursing home. As her health declined, more responsibility fell on Justin’s teenage shoulders.

He wasn’t going to go back on his promise.

Barnhill died in January 2016 at the age of 94. Her grandson kept his promise.

“I had to,” he said. “She did so much for me.”

He never gave up on his diploma. He enrolled at Catapult and earned the necessary final four credits for his diploma in four months. The ceremony will be 4 p.m. on May 30 at Hillsborough Community College.

“I was impressed with his work ethic,” said his Catapult teacher, Hassan Wajd. “He still fulfilled his promise and got it done.”

After graduating from Catapult, Justin will return to HCC – as a college student. 

© 2017 WTSP-TV


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