Son inspires single dad to earn GED, associate degree

By William Foley

In a procession of graduates inching toward a stage in Butler County Community College’s (BC3) Field House, 6-foot-6 Roger Walker Jr. stopped, stepped aside and stooped.

The 23-year-old extended his right hand.

Thirty months ago, his confidence and self-esteem were low and his income and employment opportunities lower without possessing a high school diploma and while raising the blond-haired, blue-eyed son he fathered at 17.

Walker lived with his parents. Took customers’ orders at a restaurant. Was no longer in a relationship with his fiancee.

He found himself, he said, “at a point in my life where I wasn’t really sure what I was going to be doing in my future. The best thing I could do for my son and for me would be to go back to school.”

The single father from Butler intended to earn a commonwealth secondary school diploma from the state Department of Education and registered in January 2022 for classes in BC3’s adult literacy program, where he met instructor Caris Doss.

Provide son “with a better life and a better future”

“I always ask students when they start why they are pursuing their GED,” Doss said. “Roger said he was getting it for his son. He said he wanted to show his son that he was not only finishing his diploma, but also that he could have a better opportunity to provide for him.”

Upon Ashton’s birth in January 2018, Walker suspended his education as a junior at Butler Senior High School. He began to work full time at the restaurant and said he felt disappointed he did not complete his high school education through a private institution’s online courses.

Within two months in BC3’s free adult literacy program, Walker passed the four General Educational Development tests needed to earn a commonwealth secondary school diploma, and was encouraged by Doss to continue his education at BC3.

“That’s when I committed to going to college and getting a degree for myself and for my son, to provide him with a better life and a better future,” Walker said. “It would also set a good example for him. Just because life doesn’t go the way you thought it would doesn’t mean you can’t change course, refocus, set new goals and be able to accomplish them.”

Walker enrolled as a full-time BC3 student in fall 2022 and worked 40 hours a week at the restaurant in a position that influenced his decision to pursue an associate degree in the college’s business management career program.

On many days Walker would attend his first of successive classes at 8 a.m., return home to greet Ashton at the school bus and prepare macaroni and cheese, noodles or pizza rolls – his son’s favorites – for dinner.

“Being a father is the greatest thing I have ever done in my life,” Walker said. “My son is everything to me. Having him in high school was an overwhelming and scary experience at first. But he has made me a much better person, a better man. He gave me a reason to work hard and improve myself in life so I can better his life as well.”

Walker’s father, Roger Walker Sr., watched his grandson while Walker worked from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. daily.

“Roger would show up for class very tired sometimes,” said Ramin Hajave, an assistant professor in BC3’s business and information technology division. “But he showed up. He’s very professional. I got to know him. I asked him to help me understand his situation. I told him, ‘Listen, man, I know you’re struggling. You have a son, you’re working full time and you have to provide.’”

BC3’s business management program offers practical and theoretical knowledge for supervisors who seek to advance or for others who want initial supervisory training in preparation for employment. Students in BC3 career programs such as business management can develop the skills needed to enter the workforce upon graduation.

“A much brighter future” as college graduate

Thirty months after beginning classes to earn a commonwealth secondary school diploma, Walker completed BC3’s 60-credit program and joined graduates in BC3’s Class of 2024.

“He’s gone from not finishing high school to college graduate,” Doss said. “He and his son have a much brighter future than they did a little more than two years ago.”

Walker has created a foundation for success, Hajave said.

“And his son will see him as a role model,” Hajave said, “and that’s a great, great thing.”

Tammy Johns watched as her 4-foot-1 grandson sat in a folding chair swinging his feet above the floor in BC3’s Field House and looking for his father in the procession of graduates inching toward a stage during commencement May 15.

“He got a big smile on his face,” Johns said.

Walker stopped, stepped aside, stooped and extended his right hand.

“I gave him a little high-five,” Walker said.

Walker returned to the procession thinking about what his 6-year-old had said before the ceremony.

“He told me, ‘I’m really proud of you, Dad,’” Walker said. “That kind of caught me off guard. I didn’t always expect him to understand the weight of what I was doing. He recognizes how hard I’ve worked in the past couple of years. It really meant a lot to hear him say that.”

Walker is in his fifth year with the restaurant, but now as a department manager who hires employees, conducts orientations, plans training and supervises daily operations. He said he is “looking around to see job opportunities” and may pursue a bachelor’s degree in business online from a public four-year university.

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William Foley

is the coordinator of news and media content Butler County Community College in Butler, Pennsylvania.