By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Hiawatha Clemons III will fly to Cape Town, South Africa to work with refugees and families after he graduates with honors from Old Dominion University on May 13 with a degree in human services.
That’s a giant step forward for a student who once was labeled and dismissed by his teachers and his middle school system as emotionally disturbed.
Starting in high school and in a different and more supportive school environment, Clemons began to pick up some new labels that identified him as hard-working and academically successful.
After high school graduation, he spent a four-year stint in the Marines, fought in the Iraqi War, and finished his degree at Tidewater Community College. Now he’s preparing to graduate from at ODU, where he made the dean’s list back to back three times. He visited Ireland, Germany, and Italy while he was in the military.
Clemons said his relationship with God pushes him forward in life. “I thank God for being in my life the way he has,” he said. Clemons’ father, Hiawatha Clemons, spent 30 years in the Navy and passed away in 2004. He has a younger brother, Daniel.
Clemons tells his own story in, From Counted Out to Counted On, a recent book by John Schlimm. The book tells how 75 individuals are trying to shape the world. The book is titled, Stand Up! Young Activists Who Rock the world and How You Can, Too.
“I want everybody who reads my story to understand I would not have come this far without a deep relationship with God,” he said. “That keeps me going, as well as the desire to give back and to touch many people’s lives like my special education teacher touched my life.”
His mother, Laura Clemons, who recently retired, is pleased with her son’s progress. “I believe God has had his hand on him,” she said. “No matter what you are labeled you are God’s child. I can remember when my son would sometimes get emotional and could not focus. But I prayed, kept him in church, and taught him to put God first.”
She and her family have worshiped and worked in First Baptist Church Logan Park for about two decades. Her mother, Rosie Carr, is 88 years old, lives in Rosevore, N.C. “My mother has a thankful spirit and she tells us to be content, faithful, and thankful.” Her father, James, passed in 1999. He and his mother received the Exemplar Award from the Hampton Roads Gazeti. “I am so glad God has opened doors for him,” she said. “I’m happy he is able to go.”