It’s never too late.
A couple that has been married for 38 years — and overcame addiction — graduated from college together this month.
On Dec. 3, their son, Charles Cole, III, 33, posted a picture on Twitter of his folks in their caps and gowns. The cute picture has gotten a ton of attention online with a little help from a very sweet caption:
“My parents went back to college together and they graduated today. Together,” Cole wrote.
“They were excited about Malcolm-Jamal Warner re-tweeting it,” Cole told The Huffington Post.
Cole’s parents, Charles Jr. and Renaté, battled addictions to crack when he was young, which made for a rough childhood. Cole and his two siblings moved from Chicago to Kentucky and then to California. He was raised by his grandmother while his parents were between jail and homeless shelters.
In 1994, when Cole was in middle school, his mom entered a program and got clean. Cole’s dad followed suit the next year.
Yet, despite their sobriety, their years of addiction and lack of education had a strong impact on Cole.
“I grew up pretty early,” he told HuffPost. “I just knew I didn’t want to go through what I saw them go through. So, I focused really hard on school. I was determined to go to college.”
Cole attended California State University, East Bay. He took full class loads, did work study and worked a full-time job. In four years, he graduated with a degree in political science. Cole is now working towards a doctorate in education.
He has also worked as a social worker and with nonprofits. Along the way, he has developed a passion for advocacy work involving black youth and education, which he has written extensively about it.
Cole’s parents, who were watching their eldest son from the sidelines, were inspired by his drive.
The two decided to attend Sacramento Theological Seminary and on Dec. 3, both earned bachelor of arts in Biblical Studies degrees.
“He said, ‘They did drugs together, they went to jail together, they moved to California together, they got clean together, it’s only fitting that they go back to school and graduate together.’” A friend of Cole's take on his parents' accomplishment
But they didn’t tell their son until a week before their graduation.
“I’m more of a ‘show me, don’t tell me’ kind of person and I think it meant something to them to show me they did it,” he said.
Cole says a close friend of his sums up his parents’ accomplishment perfectly. “He said, ‘They did drugs together, they went to jail together, they moved to California together, they got clean together, it’s only fitting that they go back to school and graduate together.’”
He is also feels pride that his parents’ journey was inspired by his own.
“It crystalizes my work,” Cole said. “How I grew up is part of the reason why I work really hard to fight for education for black and brown kids across this country because I know what the results are if you don’t have it.”
Yet, for Cole, his parents have proven to him that that you can always get back what you think you have lost.
“Just because you started slow,” he told HuffPost, “Doesn’t mean you can’t finish up strong.”