At age 16 Malcolm Sheppard had big plans for his future but his world was thrown into chaos when he was involved in a shooting incident inside his own home.
Malcolm’s stepfather had always been abusive, but his anger boiled over one early morning and he brought a shotgun into the home. Malcolm’s mother was shot in the back before his stepfather came into his room, aiming the gun at Malcolm. The first shot narrowly missed, and Malcolm ran into his closet to escape the violence.
After the incident Malcolm’s mother miraculously survived and Malcolm was left unharmed physically, but the trauma lingered.
“From that time on it was tough for me to think about school,” he said. “My mind was all over the place. I had plans with my life and that deterred my life and my plans. I didn’t know how I was going to get older or get my life on track with no further education.”
He ended up homeless, sleeping in his car or on the street, gaining weight, working dead-end jobs, taking on enormous debt and unsure how he was going to get out of the situation. In 2017 he made a commitment to begin losing weight. For him, that was the beginning of a long journey of self-improvement.
“All the negative things people have said about me, I started to cancel it out,” he said. “Living in that mindset wasn’t healthy. I was on anti-depressants, I was depressed, I was suicidal. I got rid of the weight and said this is step one of the journey. Now I needed to get my high school diploma.”
‘IT’S LIKE A DREAM COME TRUE FOR ME’
Malcolm had known about UEI College in Gardena for years but he finally scheduled a time to visit the campus for a tour. As soon as he took did, he felt like it was the right place for him. He enrolled in the Business Office Administration program and began taking courses to get his high school diploma through a third-party provider that works with UEI students.
Each night he recalls doing work for his business office administration courses and then staying up even later to do his high school work. It was exhausting but he felt encouraged each time he saw another student achieve it and get a special shout out on social media.
“I wanted that too,” he said. “I hurried it up. I got it done within the first few months. They did the graduation in front of everyone and I had never had that. I got home and cried. I showed my mom my high school diploma. I was just like ‘I did it.’ I still can’t believe it. It’s like a dream come true for me.”
Brian Gatlin, Student Services Coordinator at UEI Gardena, said he could tell in the beginning that Malcolm struggled but he had perfect attendance and worked hard. With encouragement from the staff, he was able to achieve.
“I think what gave him the drive was he was able to get over the fear of failure,” Mr. Gatlin said. “I think inherently everyone wants to succeed unless they’ve been taught to fail. Learning to trust someone that really cares makes a huge difference.”
‘UEI GAVE ME A LIFELINE’
At the end of the final module, Mr. Gatlin had each member of his class take turns standing in front of the class and having each student say something they liked about that person. Everyone was left in tears.
“UEI was a great place for me to grow and develop,” Malcolm said. “Everyone has their stories. They’ve probably been through just as much if not more than I have. I’m thankful for my classmates because they are awesome people.”
Mentoring and uplifting is one of the cornerstones of UEI, Mr. Gatlin said.
“Sometimes our students just need to know you care. We’ve all been there, done that, got the t-shirt. We just have to meet them where they are at and then take them where they need to go. It makes you feel great. It’s the reason we become teachers.”
“I am very proud of Malcolm,” he said.
Today Malcolm is continuing his education and seeking a degree in Marketing. He has big plans for a podcast and starting his own business someday.
“Before I started, I was in a bad place. The shooting incident ran my life for about 15 years. I was self-defeated. I was not happy with my life. I did not think my life would get any better. Towards the end of it it’s the complete opposite. I have more fire and I have more drive and I want to help the next set of people who’ve been in my position. I want to inspire them to do what I did. I feel like I have a greater purpose than I did when I started. I feel that I have a reason to live now, thanks to UEI. It gave me a lifeline.”