A man who spent more then half of his life in prison is inspiring people from all over the world to never let anything hold him back after he graduated from Cal State Long Beach. He’s gone public with his story in the hopes of letting others know that they should never give up, no matter what setbacks they face in life.

Joseph Valadez one wish is that his mother could have lived to see him earn his college degree at the age of 62. She watched for years as he spiraled into drug addiction, gang violence, prison and homelessness, yet she never gave up trying to inspire him.

“My mother’s been gone for 14 years. And she never gave up hope on me,” Valadez told ABC7 as he became emotional. “She always told me that I could be somebody.”

Valadez revealed on social media that he finished his last two semesters on the “President’s Honor List” because he was getting straight A’s. With an impressive GPA of 3.67, Valadez even made the Dean’s List.

“Not bad for someone who spent half his adult life in prison,” he said. “There’s a misconception about guys like me that I want to break. If I can do it, anyone can.”

Valadez added that he was only 11 years-old when he began doing drugs, and he was in prison for over thirty years before his release. When he found himself near death in his 50s, he had an epiphany, and he realized it was time for him to turn his life around.

After enrolling, it took Valadez six years of hard work to finish his coursework and finally earn his degree. During his time in college, Valadez focused on sociology and wrote papers about racial discrimination in the criminal justice system.

“I know a little bit about that subject,” Valadez told the Long Beach Post. “Because I lived it, I wanted to understand the ‘why?’.”

With college behind him, Valadez is waiting for his acceptance to the master’s program in social work at the university.

“They say that ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ I’m here to debunk that stigma,” he said.

Once he has his master’s degree, Valadez is hoping to focus on helping at-risk youth.

“I’m going to inspire somebody, I’m going to motivate somebody, I’m going to give somebody hope,” he said. “That’s what I’m supposed to do.”

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