SALEM — When he was 2 years old, Francisco “Dany” Acosta’s family moved from Mexico to Los Angeles, Calif., to pursue the American dream.
“Soon our American dream would become a nightmare,” Acosta said.
He would fall onto the wrong path, becoming addicted to crystal meth and getting involved in gang activity.
“My beloved uncle never gave up on me and gave me an ultimatum; either continue down this dark path or live in his garage in exchange for attending church,” he said. “I asked God, ‘God, remove these chains of addiction from my life,’ and that is exactly what God did.”
Acosta, a student speaker at North Shore Community College’s 52nd Commencement Ceremony Thursday night, got to share his story to graduation.
“Today I stand before you drug free, debt free, and about to become a college graduate,” Acosta said.
More than 1,000 NSCC graduates from the class of 2018 crossed the stage at the Salem State University O’Keefe Center.
“Although each of you has a very unique story and a unique path, you also have a lot in common,” NSCC President Dr. Patricia A. Gentile said. “Our students come from the North Shore, as well as countries around the globe. They have tremendous grit and persistence.
“Our students are passionate about learning, about achieving educational goals, and bettering their lives through obtaining a self-sustainable career. They are younger, older, and everything in between.”
The commencement speaker was Al Wilson, the founder of Beyond Walls in Lynn. Wilson shared with students his path of leaving a profitable job and becoming involved with the non-profit.
“It really wasn’t making me happy,” he said. “I couldn’t shake this feeling that I was meant to leave what I was doing and help Lynn.
“You can bear off your career track. You can pursue a passion project. You can test yourself. It’s OK to be afraid,” he said. “Just don’t stand still. Keep moving and you will have success in life, but perhaps more importantly you’ll be happy doing it.”
Acosta also shared the next part of his life struggles that started when he woke up one day with blurry sight.
“The following seven months were filled with 13 hospitalizations, 19 surgeries, a stroke, two seizures, and both my eyes being removed. The doctors determined that it was caused by my past drug use.”
Sharing his struggles with adapting to a life without sight, Acosta said that persistence is the key to getting past any struggles in life.
Before ending his speech, Acosta shared some history and more words of wisdom with his fellow graduates.
“Dreams see no limits. Fifty-five years ago, about 500 miles away from Salem in Washington D.C., Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. shook the nation when he said ‘I have a dream,'” he said. “And tonight I humbly stand before you, I too have a dream.”
He asked the class to reach under their seats where a card with Braille writing was placed and asked students to feel the writing.
“That card is a lot like your life, and you will spend your entire lifetime looking for something,” he said. “On that card is the word purpose. Tonight you can no longer say you have never felt purpose in your life because tonight you felt it. May you all find your purpose in life.”