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Son inspires single dad to earn GED, associate degree from BC3

Roger Walker Jr., left, stands with other graduates Wednesday, May 15, 2024, during commencement on Butler County Community College’s main campus in Butler Township. Walker, 23, of Butler, suspended his high school education to work full time after his son’s birth, then earned a commonwealth secondary school diploma through BC3’s free Adult Literacy program and an associate degree from the college in business management to provide Ashton “with a better life and a better future.” Submitted photo
‘This Father’s Day will definitely feel different’

In a procession of graduates inching toward a stage in Butler County Community College’s 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 and was no longer in a relationship with his fiancée.

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.

‘Roger said he was getting it for his son’

“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.

Ashton Walker, 4, right, holds the commonwealth secondary school diploma his father earned through BC3’s free Adult Literacy program on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, on BC3’s main campus in Butler Township. Roger Walker Jr., of Butler, suspended his high school education to work full time after his son’s birth, then earned a commonwealth secondary school diploma and an associate degree from the college in business management to provide Ashton “with a better life and a better future.” Submitted photo
Father ‘very tired sometimes’

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.’”

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.

‘A much brighter future’

“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.”

Six-year-old Ashton Walker, right, wears his father’s mortarboard Wednesday, May 15, 2024, before commencement on Butler County Community College’s main campus in Butler Township. Roger Walker Jr., 23, of Butler, suspended his high school education to work full time after his son’s birth, then earned a commonwealth secondary school diploma through BC3’s free Adult Literacy program and an associate degree from the college in business management to provide Ashton “with a better life and a better future.” Submitted photo
Father’s Day ‘a bit more of a celebration’

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.

He has passed previous Father’s Days with Ashton by visiting parks to swim or swing.

“Nothing big,” Walker said. “This Father’s Day will definitely feel different.”

This Father’s Day, Walker will take his son to the Pittsburgh Zoo & Aquarium, where Ashton hopes to see “cheetahs, lions and monkeys.”

“This will be the first Father’s Day since I graduated from BC3,” Walker said. “Something about this Father’s Day feels like a bit more of a celebration of all the hard work I have done and all the patience Ashton has had with me.

“He is just so much fun to be around. It’s weird to say sometimes, but he really is my best friend.”

Bill Foley is coordinator of news and media content at Butler County Community College.

Six-year-old Ashton Walker, right, looks up to his father, Roger Walker Jr., on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, before commencement on Butler County Community College’s main campus in Butler Township. Submitted photo
Roger Walker Jr., center, walks in a procession of graduates Wednesday, May 15, 2024, before commencement on Butler County Community College’s main campus in Butler Township. Submitted photo
Six-year-old Ashton Walker, right, holds a mortarboard and looks at his father, Roger Walker Jr., on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, before commencement on Butler County Community College’s main campus in Butler Township. Walker, 23, of Butler, suspended his high school education to work full time after his son’s birth, then earned a commonwealth secondary school diploma through BC3’s free Adult Literacy program and an associate degree from the college in business management to provide Ashton “with a better life and a better future.” Submitted photo

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