Injured Army vet overcomes tragedies to earn his degree
United States Army Veteran Clarence Jennings has had to endure one too many tragedies in his life, but he’s not letting any of them stop him from reaching his goals.
Jennings, 68, started attending Palm Beach State College two years ago and will graduate this month with an Associate in Science degree in Human Services. He also earned a PBSC College Credit Certificate in Addiction Studies.
Originally from Detroit, Mich., Jennings had attended the University of Detroit and a few other colleges earlier in his life but never obtained a degree. Now a Pompano Beach resident, he spoke to a veterans specialist through CareerSource South Florida and learned that he qualified for the Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Chapter 31 program which assists veterans with service connected disabilities prepare for, find and maintain a job.
Jennings, who served in the U.S. Army for 15 years, had suffered a traumatic brain injury when he fell off an Armored Personnel Carrier while on a training mission in 1980 during the Exercise Campaign Reforger in Wildflicken, West Germany. The Reforger was an annual exercise and campaign conducted by NATO during the Cold War.
Even though he knew going back to college as an older student with a disability would be challenging, he was determined to finally earn a degree and become the first in his family to do so.
“A lot of people would say that I had a lot to overcome,” Jennings said. “This is true, and it has been a struggle and sometimes it’s difficult for me to remember things. However, if you are persistent and committed to something which I was determined to be you will eventually meet your goals no matter the obstacles.”
Jennings chose Palm Beach State after speaking with Dr. George Stoupas, associate professor of human services, who encouraged him and told him about the advantages of attending. Stoupas was also a licensed clinical mental health counselor, a profession Jennings was interested in studying.
Mental health and addiction issues were topics Jennings unfortunately knew a lot about. His two younger brothers, Theodore and Broderick, both died of drug overdoses at the ages of 32 and 34.
“It was devastating to my family because they died so close in age to one another and of the same cause,” Jennings said.
Jennings also noted that he too has struggled with addiction which is why he wanted to obtain a higher education and help people. He plans to attend Florida Atlantic University for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and one day become a licensed therapist specializing in addiction issues.
Since his time at PBSC, Jennings has endured several more deaths in his family and was recently hospitalized for pneumonia. However, none of these setbacks made him want to quit.
His advice to those who are considering college and also facing adversity is to surround themselves with people who are going to do nothing but encourage them and that once they are there to not get upset if things don’t go perfectly.
“It’s not the end of the world if you get a bad grade in a class,” Jennings said. “Just take the class over again and keep putting one foot in front of the other.”
Also celebrating his degree will be Jennings six children, who he says are absolutely delighted for him. “They think it’s unbelievable and are very proud of me.”