When Geoffrey King walks across the stage at CU Denver Spring 2018 Commencement, he’ll be thinking of his three kids – and how much he wants them to achieve his success but never have to go through what he did to get there.
For the first 10 years of King’s life, he lived in a car with his family of six. His father passed away the day before his 10th birthday, and his mother passed away when he was 14, leaving him the head of the household. He rarely attended school as a child and dropped out in eighth grade, so he could work to support his brothers.
All that aside, King said he will know he succeeded when his kids ask, “Daddy, when I get old enough, can I graduate, too?”
A decade of homelessness
King remembers waking up each day in the car with his parents and three brothers. His mom and dad would choose a spot on the side of the road to panhandle, and the kids would spend the day playing nearby, using their imaginations in lieu of toys. He remembers playing in the dirt and making a basketball hoop from grass.
He also remembers a two-week period during which the family had only two solid meals.
“Day to day, you didn’t know what would happen. Sometimes we slept in hotels and ate good meals, but most days, there was barely enough to go around,” he said. “It’s a tough way to grow up.”
With the family’s nomadic lifestyle, King and his brothers weren’t able to take baths or brush their teeth regularly. He attended school just a few months a year on average. And when he did make it to class, he said, “people didn’t want to be around the dirty, poor kid who smelled bad.”
“I will do anything to make sure my kids don’t have to experience what I did,” he said. “No one should have to experience that.”
A high school drop-out
King’s father had a heart condition that prevented him from working as a mechanic, and ultimately led to his passing. When King lost his mother four years later, he became responsible for taking care of his brothers.
Some money came in through his father’s life insurance policy, but it wasn’t enough. King dropped out of school, worked at Burger King and at other jobs that paid under the table to a teenager.
“I did everything I could to make ends meet and keep us all fed,” he said. “It was stressful and frustrating, but it also helped mold me. Everything we go through in life makes us who we are. I wouldn’t be who I am today if didn’t go through that.”
Now a first-generation college graduate, King wants his kids to have lives very different from his.
“I want to change my family culture,” he said. “I want my kids to see how big of a deal college commencement is, so they want that, too – so that my grandkids and great-grandkids all want that. Our family will no longer be known for living in a car. We’ll be known for graduating from college, going to work and making things happen.”
A commitment to college
In 2007, shortly before his first child was born, King completed his General Equivalency Diploma (GED). In 2014, shortly after his third child was born, he started community college classes.
“It took me so long to come back to school,” he said. “As a parent, I didn’t think I had time for school, but eventually I realized I was making excuses.”
In 2016, King transferred to CU Denver. He chose the Business School for its solid reputation and highly ranked programs.
In his classes, he honed his management and public speaking skills and made valuable career connections. He credits the academic support and social resources on campus for his success at the university.
“When I first came to CU Denver, I stuck to myself,” he said. “Growing up the way I did, I didn’t know how to establish relationships. Being here has helped me be more social and interact with the world.”
A message to share
King co-parents with his children’s mother. As a student, he worked three jobs to support his family – which meant 65- to 70-hour work weeks, plus a full-time course load, dinner to prepare and bedtime routines to stick to. Some nights, he stayed up till 2 a.m. doing homework and then woke up at 5 a.m. to get the kids ready for school.
“Life is hard. There’s no doubt about it,” he said, “but you just have to want to succeed. There are way too many resources in the world for us not to succeed, especially at CU Denver.”
The first in his family to go to college, King has financial analyst job offers from two Denver-area companies before he even has his diploma. He wants to become a motivational speaker and share his story with others as a source of inspiration to never give up.
“People have reasons why they can’t do something. I want to give them a reason they can,” he said. “My message is: No matter how hard life is, you can always succeed.”