Graduate Ryan Hardin: After living in homeless shelter, NAU provides ‘golden ticket’ to new life

When Ryan Hardin was little, he had one dream for his future—escape poverty.

After he and his mother ran away from a violent household, he spent his childhood in a homeless shelter, then a small income-based apartment where food and clothes were never guaranteed. Hardin remembers always being hungry and trying to not outgrow his clothes.

He decided at a young age that he wanted to be a lawyer—not because he enjoyed law, but because he had heard attorneys make a lot of money. And if his childhood dream was going to come true, he would need a lucrative occupation.

As the first person in his family to pursue college, he began researching what universities in Arizona could offer him. He chose Northern Arizona University, which not only offered the extra support he needed, but had a variety of programs, like the STAR program, to help him have a successful transition into college.

“NAU was my golden ticket to a new life; it was my opportunity to be the first in my family to attend college as well as have daily meals,” he said. “I’m not saddened or ashamed of my past; it gave me incredible perspective. The resilience I gained in living through poverty brought me to NAU.”

Hardin enrolled in NAU’s philosophy and communication studies programs.

“Some of my best memories in life come from my college experience,” said Hardin, who will graduate this Friday. “From my participation in the STAR program, where I met many friends, to my first few philosophy courses which completely shattered my preconceived notions of the world we live in and blew my mind.”

But, of all the significant college memories, he is most proud of the students and families he’s positively impacted through his three years of peer mentoring.

“At NAU, I was taught extremely valuable communication and cultural competency skills as well as formal training in logic, argumentation and problem-solving. My education has molded me into a highly informed, educated and engaged citizen ready to make a difference in the future.”

After graduation, Hardin plans to attend law school—the bias he’s encountered throughout his life has only fueled his passion to pursue a career as a civil rights attorney fighting against discrimination.

“I am extremely excited for this next chapter and I’m ready to continue serving my community and making a positive impact on society. If younger Ryan was here, he would be so proud that I’ve escaped the poverty cycle, and am actually making those childhood dreams come true. (But don’t tell him the truth: lawyers don’t actually make that much money!)”

Northern Arizona University LogoCarly Banks | NAU Communications
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NAU Communications