HOUSTON — Rice University has graduated its 110th class, including a very unusual student -- a father of three who went from construction worker to Rice grad.
Graduation is a milestone. Just ask 33-year-old Thomas Avalos. After 10 years in the marine corps, he became a roofer then wanted to pursue college and started at a local community college.
Sometimes he went to classes in his work clothes.
He remembers one day a security guard said to him, “'The construction site is around back.' I was like ‘I’m a student here. I go here.’”
For Thomas, it was a pivotal moment.
“My grandpa, he worked construction his whole life. My dad still works in construction. I remember thinking, 'My grandpa did not come from Mexico for me to just pay the bills.'”
At the urging of an advisor, Thomas applied to Rice University in what Thomas called a “Hail Mary.” That year 27,000 students applied. Only 2,300 were accepted.
“I never imaged somebody like me would be able to make it to a school like this," Thomas said.
KHOU 11's Shern-Min Chow asked him, “What do you mean by that? ‘Someone like me?’”
Thomas laughed and answered, “A military veteran with three kids, with a wife with a mortgage, working in construction.”
Around the time his third child was born, Thomas was accepted.
Two days later he drove up the university’s iconic entrance.
“I was in my work truck. I just remember staring at Lovett Hall and just crying," he said.
He knew his life was about to change its trajectory.
Getting in was hard. Getting out was harder.
“There was two months when I had three jobs. I might've been the only one walking across the stage, but it couldn’t be done without the support of family, my wife in particular," Thomas said.
He often started his day at 5 a.m., ended it after midnight, working full time, nights and weekends when necessary, and had three kids to raise. But he says it was all worth it
“I work in sales and service. I’m an account executive for the Houston Astros. I manage approx. 490 accounts. I’m a firm believer that effort is gonna trump skill on almost any day," Thomas said.
Now he said it’s his wife’s turn. Kristin is starting at community college too but has her sights set on the University of Texas at Austin.
Watch the full interview here: