LEWISTOWN - When Scott Earnest, of Lewistown, walks across the stage Saturday morning, he will be the first in his family to graduate from a university.
That milestone, he said, is one he wasn't expected to reach.
Earnest, now 44 years old, said he was raised in a Christian home and rebelled at the age of 14. His actions landed him in the juvenile criminal justice system and ultimately in reform school. He said he still remembers court authorities telling his parents he was destined for prison.
At school, Earnest said he had some successes. He earned his GED, became assistant editor of the school newspaper and joined the football program.
After his release at 18 years old, Earnest lived a fairly normal adult life, he said. However, the stigma of "juvenile delinquent" stuck with him.
In 1995, he enrolled at Penn State, but left to find a job after his oldest son was born. Earnest returned to the university in 2005 until his employer closed, eliminating his job. He found a position at the Mifflin-Juniata Special Needs Center and was inspired by the clients to give school another shot.
"My motto while I've been at Penn State is, 'Decisions determine destiny,'" Earnest said. "When an individual is labeled because of their history, it's often hard to shake that label."
Finishing school has been a test of patience and perseverance. Earnest said he had to learn how to use a computer to access information and complete coursework. He also said juggling work, school and family can be a challenge.
On Saturday, his parents and grandmother will watch as he walks at commencement. Earnest has earned an associate degree in letters, arts and sciences.
"It was a dream for me to go to Penn State," he said, adding that he is a big fan of the school's football team. "It's humbling, it's surreal ... I'm very, very grateful."
Earnest is scheduled to speak about the trials and successes he has experienced during the World Campus and Continuing Education Graduation Celebration, set to be held from 6-8 p.m. today at the Nittany Lion Inn in State College.
After graduation, Earnest said he will continue his education to earn a bachelor's degree in rehabilitation and human services. He said his ultimate goal is to council troubled teens.
"I believe that there is good in everyone and everybody has potential," he said. "Take a look at yourself, look at your attributes ... and see if there's a way that can be used to help others. And if so ... why not?"