Love Pierre smiled broadly, as he approached the doors leading to the student services wing of Lorenzo Walker Technical College in Naples.
Staff members warmly greeted Pierre, 22, with hugs and smiles. Pierre was asked by the group of women to give a speech at the school's graduation ceremony on Thursday.
Lynne Bruce is a workforce education advisor at the school. She first met Pierre two years ago while trying to help him get a textbook refund for a phlebotomy class.
“And, since we started seeing each other quite regularly, trying to get that refund, his story started coming out," Bruce said. "And, he was sharing with me why it was so important to get back those $32.”
Pierre was homeless just two months after moving to Naples from Haiti. He was forced to leave the island after being targeted for his father’s political ties.
"Growing up in Haiti, I had the best education. My dad had money, so I never, never, never, never been in a state where I was homeless. So, being homeless put me in a state where I was suicidal," Pierre said. "I had so many suicidal thoughts, and I came this close to killing myself."
Pierre found his way to Lorenzo Walker while living at the St. Matthew's Immoklaee Friendship House for the homeless. He took a 4 a.m. bus to school every morning to get to his classes.
Through his outstanding academic performance, Pierre acquired a handful of scholarships and is now preparing to graduate from the school’s licensed practical nursing program.
Lorenzo Walker staff member Heidi Duff said she and her coworkers created an elaborate proposal to ask Pierre to speak at his graduation ceremony.
“We took him into the conference room, and we held up little signs that said, 'Will you be our graduation speaker?'" Duff said. "It was really cute, and he started crying.”
Pierre said his answer was a no-brainer. He credits the staff of Lorenzo Walker for helping through his darkest days.
"They fixed my car; they give me place to stay; they give me money to eat; they give me everything," Pierre said. "Everything that could actually help me out and make it through the program. So, if they ask me to do something, I will definitely do it."
In addition to planning his graduation speech, Pierre said he is also preparing for the next step in his education.
"I think this is a huge accomplishment, but I feel like, you know, its not enough for me," Pierre said. "I want to keep fighting and keep going until I get my MD degree."
Pierre will begin the registered nursing program this summer at Florida SouthWestern State College. He hopes to become a pediatrician one day.