Update: We interviewed Troy for this portrait in May 2016, shortly after he earned his NCCER Core construction education certification. In summer of 2016, as he was beginning his first welding courses, he had to stop school temporarily due to health and work complications. In December 2017, he moved back to Los Angeles, where he got a job working for an air freight company delivering cargo to airlines. He misses his daughter and grandchildren back in Louisiana and is considering relocating again. "I'm praying about it," he says. "I remembered the way I felt when I wanted to return back to school. I am praying about returning or at least beginning to study and try to take the [high school equivalency] test."
I drove [trucks] from 1979, off and on, through 2004.
Before that, I was married. Had my own [trailer] truck at one time. Even had my own house at one time -- well, not my own, my wife and I. Did all that without a GED but, you know...
No way, is that you?
Yeah, I was a hundred pounds heavier here.
Can you tell me what you see in this photo?
Well, I was about 345 pounds. I carried my weight well because I had big arms and big shoulders...from driving trucks. When I started, they didn’t have power steering so it had made me real strong at the time.
And you’re here in the driver’s seat...
You’ve got the big trucker mirror.
You’ve got your shades on.
Same facial hair.
Yeah. Tank top shirt.
This [photo] was before 9/11. I had my own truck at the time.
This was my truck. And I was over the highway. I had my little nephew with me and I think he took the picture. But I gave the truck up right after 9/11. I had it for like nine months.
I was kind of deceived through the company I was with. [They] gave me a lease program and told me I was gonna be making x amount of dollars and getting x amount of miles but I didn’t get those miles, and my truck note was like $2000 a week...So a couple of times, the check I took home was real small.
If I would’ve continued with that company for five years, they would’ve given me a new truck, but I gave it up, because right after 9/11, the fuel prices went up really high.
At the time of this photo, what kind of things were you thinking about?
The truck note. [Laughs.]...Could I last for five years? I really wanted to. And at that time, I was a little angry because Greyhound had hired me right at the same time when these people hired me...so when I took this and I wasn’t making the money I thought I was gonna be making, it sort of seemed like it wasn’t a good idea.
[Later] I took care of a debilitated parent.
He was bedridden -- my father, he was bedridden. In 2004, I was driving trucks over the road and I went to California to get him, about a year after my mother died, and I brought him here ‘cause he didn’t have, you know -- he was debilitated. At the time, he was able to do a little walking, and he could transfer himself from the wheelchair to different chairs. But the last six years he became totally bedridden, so I took care of him then.
When I came off the road to take care of my father, I got a local job. I was actually working for ConocoPhilips Alliance Refinery driving trucks in the plant and responding to oil spills. Around 2009 is when he became debilitated and I stopped driving. But I really haven’t had the desire to go back. My license is still good -- I still have ‘til 2020. And I guess by then I’ll have 2020 vision and I’ll be able to see what I really want to do. But I’d love to finish this, finish the welding school, and get connected with a good job.
When did you decide to come back to school?
It was in August of last year. When I moved back from St. Louis, I moved next door to my uncle, and I work for him part time. [INCLUDE? He goes to Delgado too. He’s 64.] But when I’d be at home, he noticed I was locked up in my room with 6 different Bibles, different versions of the Bible, just reading...
He was like, “Man, you could...go to missionary school and open your own church. You know the money in that?” But that really wasn’t the reason why I...
But he’s the one that planted the seed about me going back to school. He brought me up here and, you know, they told me that I need to get my GED.
‘Cause I really wanted to take maybe some Hebrew classes, that’s why I was coming here. Hebrew and Greek, because the original Old Testament is written in Hebrew and the New Testament is written in Greek. So I was wondering if you guys had that here. But then they sprung it on me that I had to get my GED, [Laughs] so I thought, “Well, let me try.”
Someone told me to come back September 18th...to sign up for the adult classes.
That’s my sister’s birthday, so I remember that date very well. And the line was real long. I remember that day, it was a lot of people there. I did that and then came back about a month later and started night school.
When the line was really long, did any part of you say, “Ehh, nevermind”?
No, no, no, no, no. I enjoyed myself. I had my headphones on. [Laughs.] I was listening to some tapes I have...
Can I ask you what’s on your tapes?
Some religious messages. Joseph Prince. Yeah, I like to listen to some Christian messages.
First Day of School
I was nervous...
I remember I was nervous because it was Geometry...Geometry 3. But Ms. Leilani, she’s not intimidating and...I was amazed how the first day I was learning and picking up the concepts. So I was like, “Man, maybe I can do this,” you know?
I was walking up here every day and walking back.
So I was getting some exercise at the same time. It was fun. [Laughs.] ... Classes were from 4 to 8:30. I would leave home maybe 1 o’clock, and I would always get here early...And then when I got out at 8:30, I shot through City Park. I probably got home some time between 9:30 and 10 o’clock at night.
When I started coming here, I was 285 pounds and I got down to 230.
I probably walked, in the last two years, about 2000 miles.
How did you figure that out?
About 20 miles a week. Sometimes a little more, sometimes a less, but it was an average of 20.
What’s got you excited in school?
Just learning... I don’t know if you saw the movie Castaway. Tom Hanks, when he’s on the island, he said, “I’ve created fire!” [laughs] I’ve created this new thing called school. So I’m excited. I’m enjoying myself.
How’s it different -- for example, how’s math different now than back when you were in high school?
I understand more of the concepts now. Not all of it, you know. I understand “Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally”: P stands for the parentheses -- you do that first. E is for exponents, which would be like five squared or five to the third power.
And I’m not a religious fanatic, but one to the third power -- you know, I believe in the God of the Bible. He’s three in one, so one to the third power is just one [laughs]. If I didn’t learn anything else, that’s enough right there.
I know it does feel different because, before, I had a lot of tension in my neck and in my shoulders, but this last time we took the test, that tension wasn’t there. So it’s beginning to get a little bit more comfortable.
You know, I always want to succeed and do well, so I put a lot of pressure on myself. But the teachers and all the people here, you guys are great motivators.
I’m excited because I found out today I scored a 57 on the last test, and before that I scored a 43. And I was actually excited then because I thought I was only going to score like a 9 or a 13.
And the test that you’re talking about, can you tell me about that test? What’s it like? If you pass it, what happens?
It’s the early entry [math] test for the college level, so if I pass that, I’ll get credit -- when I do get my HiSET, I’ll be on the college level... I’ll have credit for those classes taken, so when I do take the courses that are for my major or -- this is still new jargon to me, you know -- I won’t have to take these remedial classes.
One of my best moments was when I received “Student of the Week.”
I was excited and I took pictures of [the certificate], and I was texting it to everybody. All my family was congratulating me, and I went out and celebrated.
How do you celebrate?
Go out to eat. [Laughs]
What’s one of your places you’d go?
Chopstix, a Chinese place across the river.
How did you get “Student of the Week”?
Really it was a surprise to me... I mean all I did was suit up, show up. You know, I would come everyday, and I would come to home study, I mean homeroom -- what is it called?
Oh, study hall.
To study hall. And just... I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure that one out myself.
Also, during the [National Center for Construction Education and Research] Core class...
...when it was coming up on the three hardest tests I was about to take and I aced all three of those, and one of them I aced with a hundred. That was when you showed me how to dig in that book and how to utilize my time and get better results.
What do others think about you coming back to school?
For one thing, my daughter, she’s 100% in my corner, always cheering me on. My niece in Atlanta, she was college material, but she chose to be a mother. She has five children. But the girl, she was smart, smart as a whip.
But...I have a cousin in California, she works at Loyola college. She’s a professor. And she said that by me going back to school, it’s going to challenge my niece to go back to school.
And my sisters and all my nieces and nephews, they call me The Professor now. [Laughs.] It’s a new nickname. I’m loving it too -- I’m thinking about getting a tattoo.
I had a lot of naysayers, you know...
I didn’t listen to them, though. I’m glad I didn’t. Some people just have negativity. They see things in a negative light. You know, when you look through some binoculars, the items get bigger, but if you flip them over the other way, the items get real small. So, you know, some people just have their lenses flipped the wrong way.
Do you think you’re too old (to go back to school)?
No, no. Age is just a number. I’m actually just as strong as I was in my twenties... I feel blessed, you know, kind of like Caleb in the Bible. Caleb was 85 and he told Joshua, “I’m just as strong as I was when I was 40,” and he told him, “Give me the mountain Moses promised me.”
I Wish I'd Known Then...
I dropped out of high school in '76.
Why I dropped out...I really couldn’t understand, I couldn’t catch on. So I guess I acted out. I was kind of a troubled kid, growing up in Los Angeles.
But I really didn’t understand algebra. You know, 4xyz, you know, I didn’t understand those concepts, so I guess I was acting out. I went to four different high schools in those two years, and I still didn’t graduate.
I might have been the first patient for ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder.
I couldn’t focus for some reason -- I don’t know why. I wish I knew back then what I know know. You know, I used to hear people saying that and I really understand what that means.
I didn’t have a clue, really, what life was about. I thought it was all part of fun and games. I was a good athlete back then so I probably figured I could make it through in sports.
I went to school with Barry Bonds, Darrell Strawberry. I played ball with them, in Little League...
And then I was good at football also so I figured I could probably make it if I was going on that. But that didn’t work either... Actually education is the most important thing, and I wish someone would’ve talked to me and explained it to me back then.
Was school a good experience for you back then?
Well, yes and no. Like I said, I went to four different high schools, and L.A. was big, real large -- a real large city. I knew a lot of people. And during that time, the gangs were really bad. So traveling back [from] four different schools, I had to go through a lot of gang territories. So that was an experience I learned. But I did meet a lot of people and I have a gift of being able to read people.
If you could go back and talk to yourself the way you were in high school, what kind of conversation would you have?
I’d be like, “Young man, stay in school,” and, like my father, he dropped out in the 10th grade as well, just like me. And he used to tell me, “Boy, you should have stayed in school and got your diploooma.”
He called it a “diploooma” [Laughs] So I would tell anyone to get their education, you know, ‘cause knowledge is power, you know... knowledge is power. You can go a long way with knowledge.
Is it a simple thing, though, to stay in school?
Like if you would’ve told your old self that, if the conversation kept going, what would your old self have said and what would’ve happened next?
[Sighs] Trying to reach that young man, it’d take a rocket scientist. I really um... I don’t know. Like the old folks used to tell me, “If I know what I knew back then...” Yeah, I would’ve done things a whole lot differently, you know.
I guess I kept hearing God say, “Go back and start where you left off at,” you know? and complete your GED.
And, actually, that was a lesser goal, but now there’s a greater goal, you know, in completing the ACE program, so... It’s funny how, you know, I was only coming to get my GED and this was offered to me. And who’s to think that a greater goal can be accomplished through a lesser goal?
Right now, I’m dedicating these two years, even though I am losing a little sleep...
...but that’s really not that long. You know, two years go by really fast. I talk to a lady from Atlanta and she tells me all the time, “You don’t have a life! You need to be doin’ somethin’ you wanna do!” and I was like, “I am doin’ somethin’ I wanna do.”
That’s been my problem my whole life: I always did really what I wanted to do, and my best thinking had me to drop out of school... But I think if I would’ve furthered my education, I could’ve went a really long way.
And if things go as planned, in a couple semesters you'll be finishing your welding program. What would it be like to be starting in a new profession now?
I’m looking forward to it because, from what I understand, they make some pretty good money, and they make a lot of overtime. I’m just anticipating success, you know? I wake up everyday saying, “Somethin’ good’s gonna happen to me -- not ‘cause I’m good, ‘cause God is good.” So I’m expecting the best.
I can’t wait to start [hands-on training] because, to be honest with you, I like a challenge.
CUT That job I had with ConocoPhillips, I used to watch the welders. They had a lot of welders on that job. I worked for a different company contracted to ConocoPhillips -- it was all about safety, you know? Not just safety for our job, but we would have to watch everybody else, make sure they’re doing everything safely. So I kinda watched how they used to set up and the precautions they used to take too. So I’m excited.
I’m going to this other campus.
I’m still trying to figure out my schedule -- it’s still up in the air -- but I definitely have to go to the welding classes from 12:15 on Airline Highway (on a different campus), to 5:40 at night. CUT The other day, I caught the bus from a different route, so I want to catch it from here to see how long it takes to get there, and then I was going to wait ‘til like 5:40 -- you know, like if I’m getting out of class -- and come back to here, just to see, and then I’ll walk home from here. But, yeah, I just want to see what that schedule’s like.
So you’re going to do that today?
Yeah, yeah, I’m going to do that today. As soon as I leave here, I’m going right to the corner down there and get on the bus.
And when does school start?
June the first.
Next week. Next Wednesday.
Who Are Adult Education Students?
Who are the adult education students? Who have your classmates been?
It’s from all walks of life and all different nationalities. I’ve seen from every age group -- I might be the oldest one though. [Laughs]
I have good peripheral vision, so I might be looking this way but I’m still watching what’s going on, and it’s fun to watch other people, you know, as they shuffle their time and their schedules. They’re making this work. People are really sacrificing for their education.
And like I say, two years is really not that long. You may lose a lot of sleep, can’t do everything you want to do, have fun, go out, stuff like that. But, like I say, two years is not that long to commit. I want to commit to about four or eight more years. [Laughs]
You know, when you were in high school, you [went to school] for your parents.
When you go to college, you’re doing this for you. Do it for you. And don’t never stop, even when you’re in your fifties, like me. Continue with your education.
CUT? (I really think that the greater goal is to give God the glory, but there are so many lesser goals included. One of them is to be an example to others, but I think an even greater goal than that is to do it for you.)