Lifestyle & Human Interest

Panhandler Gets To Finish College Degree He Started 40+ Years Ago After Students Share His Story


Wearing a brave smile and a sporting a fresh haircut, a man who has been panhandling for years in the shadows of the University of Texas in Austin will step into a classroom for the first time in over 40 years to finish his degree.

David Carter, 65, last attended UT in 1976 as a studio art major. As a teenager, Carter visited the school regularly to visit the library and feed his growing hunger for knowledge.

“I was a student, and before I was a student I had a non-student card to the university library when I was 13,” Carter told the Texas Ledger.

But substance abuse and injuries from a serious drinking and driving collision 44 years ago left Carter broken, both physically and psychologically.

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“I had a skull fracture, broken pelvis and a broken jaw,” Carter told KEYE-TV.

He also suffered extensive damage to his hand, an injury that gave Carter another reason to stop pursuing his studio art degree.

“If I could change one thing about my past life, I would have stayed in school,” Carter said.

Now, Carter is getting his chance to return to school, thanks to a community of Longhorn students and alumni who are determined to help Carter fulfill his dream of finishing his degree.

UT journalism and government student Ryan Chandler believes Carter has the drive, dedication and support to be successful as he re-enrolls in school.

“He is capable. He is ready, and he is dedicated to do this,” Chandler told KEYE.

Chandler befriended the panhandler and got to know his story. He published an article on Medium for the Texas Ledger, detailing Carter’s life and longing to reach his future goals.

“I always saw his face on the Drag and a friend of mine mentioned he is a nice person to talk to, so we got lunch and I interviewed him for an editorial column on the Austin homeless population back in last April,” Chandler told Liftable, a section of The Western Journal.

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“After hearing his background and hopes of getting back to UT, I was blown away so we kept in touch and really became friends.”

As Carter’s story gained momentum, an anonymous UT alum reached out and offered to pay the man’s tuition.

Carter, who lives in subsidized housing and uses the city bus to get to the university, is humbled and thrilled at the chance to finish what he started.

Chandler hopes to dispel some of the fears and ill-assumptions toward people who live on the streets.

“I think the most important thing I hope people take away from this is that the common preconceptions about people you see on the street are not true,” Chandler told Liftable.

“UT students often see the homeless as dangerous, lazy, or annoying. And those stereotypes are simply wrong. Nobody chooses to be homeless.

“Those who are have been victim to misfortunes outside of their control, such as mental illness, addiction, or family problems. David is just one face behind those problems. He, and everyone like him, has hopes and dreams just like every more fortunate person, and they deserve to be treated like it.”

Carter told the Texas Ledger that the Longhorn community has kept him going all these years, and feels blessed by the student body on campus.

“Nobody owes me anything,” Carter said. “But people on campus have blessed me time and time again. It’s just a miracle — so many good friends here on campus. That’s the only way I’ve made it.”

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A graduate of Grand Canyon University, Kim Davis has been writing for The Western Journal since 2015, focusing on lifestyle stories.
Kim Davis began writing for The Western Journal in 2015. Her primary topics cover family, faith, and women. She has experience as a copy editor for the online publication Thoughtful Women. Kim worked as an arts administrator for The Phoenix Symphony, writing music education curriculum and leading community engagement programs throughout the region. She holds a degree in music education from Grand Canyon University with a minor in eating tacos.
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