FORT VALLEY — In his 64 years, James Akins has done a lot and has been many things.
He served as the minister of a church in Crawford County. He was a self-employed landscaper. He was a self-described drug addict and alcoholic. Then he went into rehab and was a recovering drug addict.
Now Akins is a college graduate.
Akins received his Bachelor of Science degree in social work Saturday from Fort Valley State University. There to see him graduate were his 80-year-old mother, siblings, children and grandchildren. His mother wanted him to attend college ever since he graduated from high school in 1962 and she received his cum laude honor rope.
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“The joy of accomplishment is something you can’t put into words,” Akins said. “It’s so deep that it’s unexplainable.”
When he first arrived on the FVSU campus in 2003, the Miami native was just two months out of the Better Way of Miami drug and alcohol treatment center. He entered the center in 2002 after his third marriage fell apart and he slipped back into using cocaine, marijuana and alcohol.
But Akins was determined and ready to turn his life around. He began to make an impression on the students on campus who sometimes thought he was a professor and referred to him as “Ol’ School” for his style of dress and way of dancing. Nevertheless, his maturity allowed him to become the first freshman ever to serve as a resident assistant on the campus.
Assistant football coach Anthony Broadnax, who works with Akins in Jeanes Hall, said Akins shared his life story with the students in the all-male dormitory. Through him, students learned that they too could succumb to the various addictions and distractions that come in life.
“He is an example that it is never too late,” Broadnax said.
That’s one of the reasons Akins plans to continue his stint working in a dormitory on campus. He also plans to continue his education.
Akins recently was tapped for the job of residential life coordinator at Jeanes Hall. He’s also looking forward to beginning graduate school at FVSU in the fall. He plans to earn a master’s degree in mental health counseling.
With both degrees, Akins said he would help addicts in recovery such as himself. Through his stint in rehabilitation and his continued participation in Narcotics Anonymous, he is aware of the need on the streets.
He plans to return to Better Way of Miami on his next visit home to show the staff who helped him what he did with his life and to set an example for other recovering addicts.
“I know there are addicts out there who are suffering,” Akins said. “I want to show them that this is part of the recovery reward.”
For Akins, earning a bachelor’s degree marked just the first level of his success. The graduate degree will be another level, he said.
In the end, he said, all his hard work will lead to him helping people who need it most.
“I’m not leaving you all until I’ve set the best example I can set,” Akins said.
Sophomore business management major Quadel Woods looks to Akins for inspiration. Woods, a residential assistant in Jeanes Hall, said Akins has set a true example for all the young people he has tried to reach.
“He has been through it all,” Woods said.
To contact writer Natasha Smith, call 923-3109, extension 236.