"There's a misconception about guys like me that I want to break. If I can do it, anyone can," wrote Joseph Valdez, 62, who recently graduated from California State University, Long Beach, after spending more thabn 30 years behind bars. When Valdez was just 11 years old, he spiraled into a drug addiction, then gang violence, prison and homelessness. Facing death in his 50s, he had an awakening and decided to get clean. Valdez finished his last two semesters on the "President's Honor List" for getting straight As and is awaiting acceptance into a master's program in social work at the same university. What continues to stay with him is the memory of his mother, who died 14 years ago. "She never gave up hope in me," Valdez recalled. "She always told me that I could be somebody. She said I was smart. She never gave up hope on me." The graduate hopes that his story can inspire others who find themselves in a lifestyle similar to that of his youth.

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