Some people just don’t take no for an answer, and Preston Burkett is one of them.
The 20-year-old Eastpoint resident, six-foot five-inches and gangly with a friendly grin, didn’t take a direct path to college, there were twists and turns along the way, but that’s where he’s heading this month.
Son of Helen Denise Burkett, in Tallahassee and Jimmie Lee Burkett, Jr., of Panama City, he had the grades to possibly graduate with his classmates with the Class of 2017.
But he didn’t.
He had attended Brown Elementary, and then the ABC School in third and fourth grade, and then in 2010 moved to Port St. Joe, where he attended fifth through ninth grade.
Challenged with autism, that experience wasn’t always such a happy one. “I was bullied, I just had enough of it,” Burkett said.
He returned to Franklin County, and attended as a sophomore, a passionate manager of the football and basketball teams.
“It was great, I fit right in and it was home,” he said. “The teachers went out of their way, I had what I needed here. I could have graduated with the class of 2020, but I would have been age 21.”
Burkett decided to branch out on his own, and “dropped out,” and did lawn work.
“The age difference was a big concern but at same time I wanted to get out of here and go to college,” he said.
And that’s what he plans to do.
While working in the warehouse and delivering equipment to vacationers on the weekends for VayK Gear, he breezed through GED courses, and with financial help from Nick O’Grady, who directs the adult education program, he passed all four parts of the test in five days.
Tallahassee Community College accepted his diploma and on August 26 he’ll start classes there, living in a dorm at University Village, and working at Whataburger, as he gets around on a bicycle given him by his VayK Gear employers.
“I thought I lost hope this year but it all fell in place,” said Burkett. “I had the determination to get it done; I had the want. It took some adapting but I know I can handle it. I was able to fight through it.”
Nicknamed the “White Radio,” after the lead character in the sports comedy film played by Cuba Gooding, Jr, Burkett takes life in long, gentle strides.
“There’s stuff come at me I didn’t think I could overcome and I fought through it,” he said. “The biggest way to get past the obstacle is to push through it, get it out of your way, conquering goals with an unconquered mindset.”
Speaking of unconquered, Burkett has plans to start out with three or four courses, “until I figure out what I’m getting myself into,” and then once he earns his associate’s degree, to purses a sports management degree at Florida State.
“All the money I worked for, it’s going towards paying for college,” he said. “Sports is my passion; I’m a diehard Florida State fan. The gridiron gang is one of my biggest motivators.”
A participant in Youth Pastor Scott Shiver’s Front Line Ministries, Burkett was honored at a recognition night at Deliverance Tabernacle, his grandmother Brenda Flower’s church.
“I’m one of those can’t nothing hold me down,” he said. “I make the best of what I got.”
- Preston, Thank you for being part of the VayK Gear team. You truly touched your fellow co-workers and the customers you served with your humility and grace. We wish you the very best in everything that lies ahead!