Stepping up: Eighth-grader walks 6.5 miles for graduation ceremony

ST. LOUIS — Before stepping on stage for his eighth-grade graduation, a St. Louis teen walked for two hours to attend the ceremony, covering 6.5 miles to receive his diploma.

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Xavier Jones took more than 10,000 steps to receive his diploma at Yeatman Middle School on May 22, capturing the hearts of his classmates, a university president and a pair of NFL players, KTVI reported.

He would be rewarded with a future scholarship, an electric bicycle and a $40,000 minivan for his family.

Jones, 14, had few options on graduation day. His disabled grandfather, who has been raising the teen since his mother died several years ago, was unable to drive to downtown St. Louis. The man’s car was not working that day, the television station reported.

“I wanted to get my graduation and all my awards and stuff,” Jones, who carried a 4.0 grade-point average at the school, told KSDK-TV. “My grandpa, his car died.”

Jones decided to walk from his neighborhood in north St. Louis to the ceremony at Harris-Stowe State University in midtown with his brother and a friend, KTVI reported.

“I looked up Harris-Stowe University on Google Maps and then I saw the walking distance and then I said I could probably make it,” Jones told KMOV-TV.

His appearance at the ceremony brought cheers from the crowd.

“I had to stop my speech and call him on board and was like, ‘Hey, everybody get off your feet and give him a standing ovation,’” Darren Seals, Jones’ mentor, told the television station. “They clapped for him. They were like, ‘Woah, this boy walked.’”

“I remember something Mr. Seals told me. He said, ‘If I want it, I got to go get it,’” Jones told KTVI. “So, I wanted to graduate, so I was going to go to my graduation.

“I wanted to walk across the stage.”

The president of Harris-Stowe University, Dr. LaTonia Collins Smith, was very impressed and gave Jones a lift to pursue higher education, presenting the teen with a president’s scholarship.

“When I heard that story and to see that young man who was so bright and excited and driven, it spoke volumes to me,” Collins Smith told the television station. “It spoke resilience, persistence, perseverance. Regardless of what the adversity is, I’m going to press my way to this promotion ceremony. So that is what sparked my interest in saying, ‘Hey, this is the type of kid that we want to recruit to Harris-Stowe.’”

The president’s scholarship from Harris-Stowe covers four years of tuition, books, and fees and will be waiting for Jones when he graduates high school according to KSDK. He will be attending Lift for Life Academy, the television station reported.

“She said, ‘You got a full ride,’ and I said, ‘Do you know what that means,’ and (Jones) said, ‘They’re going to give me a ride to school?’” Seals told KTVI. “I was like, ‘No, you’re getting a ride to college.’ He said, ‘Wait a minute, I don’t have to pay for college?’ Then it started hitting him.”

Jones, who was a 4.0 student as an eighth grader at Yeatman, wants to be a NASCAR driver one day.

Before he reaches the goal of earning a professional ride on the auto racing circuit, Jones and his family received some wheels this week.

NFL offensive tackle Terron Armstead and several others gifted Jones a $5,000 Ryan Pritchard Electric Bike and his family a $40,000 minivan during halftime of a celebrity basketball game on Friday at Cahokia High School in the St. Louis suburb of Cahokia, Illinois, KMOV reported. The Terron Armstead Foundation joined forces with Bommarito Automotive and others, including his Miami Dolphins teammate, Tyreek Hill.

“Just to see his family, to get a chance to get transportation, for him to be rewarded for something he did himself,” Armstead told the television station. “Six miles ... is … I mean, I can’t do it.”

“It’s beautiful, I’m telling you,” Jones’ grandfather told KTVI. “I don’t have enough words for that.”

“At the end of the rainbow, there’s a pot of gold. I learned a lot from Xavier that day,” Collins Smith told KMOV. “Even on your worst day keep pressing forward.”

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