AUSTIN, TX — Featured prominently on the University of Texas at Austin website is the slogan “What Starts Here Changes the World.” One student’s efforts effected genuine change in the world of a homeless man who’s resuming classes at the campus after a 44-year absence as a result.
David Carter, 67, left the school’s studio art program in 1975 after struggling with schizophrenia and substance abuse, as the UT alumni magazine El Alcalde reported. Carter was on his way to earning his degree before punching his hand through a window — which impaired his ability to draw — as he descended into a spiral of alcoholism, drug abuse and mental illness.
Decades later, he crossed paths with Ryan Chandler, a 20-year-old government and journalism major who was interviewing him for the school newspaper The Daily Texan for a piece about homelessness. The young reporter found Carter not far from where his academic dreams had evaporated — along “The Drag,” the nickname given to Guadalupe Street that is the main, north-to-south artery fronting the sprawling campus, where he spent his days begging strangers for money.
As reported by the alumni magazine, Chandler learned Carter hitchhiked across the country after dropping out of UT-Austin so many years before, returning to the capital city in 1995 to help his ailing parents. Carter slept on the streets before the non-profit Caritas of Austin secured subsidized housing for him six years ago, but was forced to continue panhandling to pay for housing costs.
While on assignment for the school paper, Chandler was astounded by the man’s connection to the school along with the twists his life had taken that prevented him from earning his degree. After filing his story, he made it his mission to get Carter re-admitted to the school.
The quest took considerable effort. NBC News reported that Chandler experienced immediate roadblocks as he tried to get Carter re-admitted, including the man’s lack of a computer and inability to pay the the application fee.
Undaunted, Chandler got in touch with the president’s office before being directed to the main admissions office, which led him to the admissions office for the College of Fine Arts. Chandler then helped Carter complete the application and covered his application fee. After about six months of back-and-forth with the school, Carter was readmitted to the UT Austin College of Fine Arts where he now plans to study literature.
“We welcome him back as we do many students each year whose education took a less direct path,” UT-Austin College of Fine Arts Dean Doug Dempster told NBC News. “We admire his courage and persistence. We’re going to give him every assistance to help him through his remaining course work. We’re grateful for the generosity of fellow Longhorns who are stepping up to support Mr. Carter.”
Even before his story was published in the student-run newspaper, Chandler knew it was no mree assignment. “This is the most important story I’ve ever written,” he wrote in a tweet. “Many Longhorns know this man as the panhandler on the Drag. I know him as David Richard Carter — a Longhorn with 102 credit hours just waiting for a second chance.”
He later expressed elation when Carter was re-admitted. “We did it!” the young journalist wrote on Twitter. “After 6 years of panhandling on the Drag, David Carter has been readmitted to @UTAustin and will resume his degree this week. Thanks to Longhorns’ support and an article published in @TheAlcalde, a Texas Ex has pledged to pay his full tuition.”
After such a long absence from classes, Carter will start off slowly with two classes in June during the summer semester taking on a full load in the fall, according to the report. He excitedly told NBC News how he’s looking forward in indulging his interest into African Studies and the Civil Rights Movement in particular, and relishes his newly found access to the college library.
“I’ve got $90, and I’m going to invest it back into going to school,” he told NBC News.