ORLANDO, Fla. – Dalton Joseph, 22, was once a high school dropout, but now he's a working college graduate and on a mission to encourage teens to make positive choices.
Joseph was born and raised in West Orlando. He dropped out of Evans High School in the 10th grade with a 1.8 GPA, then left his single-parent home at 16 years old.
His life came full circle in March 2019 when he became a tutor and mentor at his alma mater, the same school he quit for the streets.
Joseph said he lost hope in education, though his father preached to him the importance of going to school ever since he was a child.
"I made a decision to rebel and be headfirst into the streets, thus becoming a product of my environment. I was skipping school, in and out of the juvenile system, and running from the law," Joseph said.
Before he was 18 years old, he was arrested and detained on charges such as burglary, grand theft and possession of a firearm by a minor.
Tired of the streets and tired of being broken, Joseph decided to finally go back to school. He wanted a better life that didn't involve going back and forth to the juvenile detention center. He then enrolled into night classes and eventually got his GED.
He said his breaking point was when one of his close friends was shot and killed in 2013.
"My brother, close friends, and associates were getting put away, sent to prison and the county jail back to back. Plenty were lost out here with no realization of their true purpose. Me being one of them," Joseph said.
Joseph went on to graduate with honors from Valencia College in 2019. He got an associates of arts degree in general studies. He's the first in his family to earn a college degree, graduating with a 3.8 GPA. He was also named Valencia College's Mary S. Collier Distinguished Graduate for 2019 for beating the odds, as well as his commitment to service and his academic performance while at the college.
He's grateful for his high school teacher, Stephanie Dorestant, for motivating him to apply for a scholarship at Valencia that ended up covering his first two years of college.
On March 12, 2019, Joseph began working at Evans High as an AVID Tutor. AVID is a college prep elective course.
"My message to other teens or young men who may want to give up or drop out of school is to finish what you started, remain resilient, keep going and beat the odds," Joseph said.
Joseph told News 6 he plans to continue to share his story to give other teens hope and inspiration. He said his long-term goal is to encourage the youth to beat the odds and to always realize their worth.
He's currently working on getting his bachelor's degree and he wants to someday become an educator.
Joseph spends his free time speaking and mentoring young men at the Orange County Juvenile Detention Center. He also partners with a number of Central Florida community organizations aimed at keeping young people on track.
He works with young men through Evans High School, AVID, Elevate Orlando, Helping All Youth Achieve, Gateway School, Rosemont Community Center, Valencia College, the Bridges to Success Scholarship Program, United Foundation of Central Florida, iHope Mentoring, 98.5 The Wire, the Sarai Antoine Show, and more.
Joseph said his parents were separated when he was 7 years old. His family is from Haiti, though he and his siblings were born in the United States.
Despite his rough past, he's dedicated to helping others. He's fueled by his background, knowing that the best is yet to come.