Brian Kevin Mosley and his guide dog, Cody, received the loudest applause and a standing ovation Saturday as they crossed the stage at Augusta State University's Christenberry Fieldhouse.
As Mr. Mosley received his psychology degree and a handshake from University President William Bloodworth, the audience response was fitting, considering the obstacles Mr. Mosley had to conquer to earn his degree.
Mr. Mosley was one of 346 graduates to earn undergraduate and advanced degrees from the institution Saturday.
For Mr. Mosley, who has been blind for eight years, Saturday's walk was more than special.
"Going to college was a challenge for me, but that's what makes it exciting and motivating," said the Augusta resident.
Describing his matriculation process as a challenge is an understatement. The Los Angeles native was raised in the city's notorious South Central section and soon learned the world of street gangs.
He belonged to the Playboy Gangsta Crips while attending Los Angeles-area high schools.
"We were kind of a preppy gang who wore creased khaki pants and we were dancers who did the robot and pop-locking," said Mr. Mosley, 38.
He lived near the heart of the 1992 L.A. riots that gripped the city after the infamous Rodney King trial and verdict.
"I saw the fires, the break-ins, the looting and the National Guard camping out at a Crenshaw Shopping Center," he said.
Seeking a more settled lifestyle, Mr. Mosley moved to rural Appling to live with his mother in 1996. Six months later, his life changed forever.
While sitting in a shed in back of his mother's house, Mr. Mosley was shot by a stray bullet that pierced his skull and severed vital nerves, leaving him blind.
"It's ironic that for all that happened in L.A., I would be shot in Appling, Ga.," he said. It was speculated that a hunter's bullet did the damage, but no one was ever identified, he said. He recuperated for two weeks at Medical College of Georgia Hospital.
"I was a victim of circumstances," he said. "Many days, I cried and asked 'God, why me?' I later thanked him because I was still alive," he said.
Employees at the Walton Options for Living center in Augusta encouraged him to attend college, he said.
"They thought I should apply myself, so I took the test and made it in."
Steve Hobbs, a psychology professor and former psychology department chairman, said faculty and students appreciated and recognized Mr. Mosley's commitment.
"Brian never took advantage of his situation and worked harder than most students," said Mr. Hobbs. "He'll do just fine, and his background will benefit others."
Mr. Mosley plans to earn a graduate degree in psychology and help blind children.
"I want to help them succeed in the mainstream and to regard blindness as being visually challenged, not a disability. So they don't grow up feeling stigmatized."
Reach Timothy Cox at (706) 823-3217 or firstname.lastname@example.org.