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The incredible story of an orphan whose friends made it possible for him to graduate


James Hickey is not only a determined young man, he’s also full of gratitude and positivity.

Just like every student at the graduation ceremony, when the moment comes for James Hickey to step up on to the stage he’ll be looking in the crowd for his parents. But for the 24-year-old finance graduate from Pace University in Pleasantville, New York, he’ll be looking for them in spirit.

At the tender age of 11, Hickey lost his father due to complications from hepatitis C that he contracted from a blood transfusion after a work-related accident. Hickey had promised his father he’d take care of his mother, whose health began to deteriorate. He had to learn the skills of running a household, including paying bills, and dealing with debt collectors. Eventually, his mother died of a cerebral hemorrhage when Hickey was 17. As if all that loss weren’t enough, just as Hickey was entering his final semester at Lakeland High School, he lost the family home to foreclosure.

With the odds stacked against him, Hickey’s friends rallied, and it is due to their help and support that Hickey finds himself with a bachelor’s degree today. As he shared with Lohud: “I was broken. I was distraught. I was a shell. I was empty,” but with the help of good friends he chose a path that would honor his parents.

The process took him longer than his peers as he had to save up for college — involving 100-hour weeks working summer jobs — but he got there in the end. Despite all the hardship and heartache his attitude is one of gratitude. “I’ve been dealt some cards that are troubling, but I’ve been dealt some real great hands in life, and those fall in the line of some of my best friends; without them I don’t know what I’d do,” he said.

It is with positivity that Hickey is intent on celebrating his graduation and the next exciting stage in his life — a dream job as a trainee on a three-year program at Merrill Lynch in Rockefeller Center. As he steps up on to the stage on Monday, he’s instructed his friends: “No crying, please. I don’t want crying. I want smiles.”

Read more: 3 Tips for navigating graduation ceremonies with grace

Read more: Aleteia founder and editor addresses CUA graduates: “Love is the only bit of advice I give you.”


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