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High school dropout supports brother through college, follows own dream to ASU at age 33

September 13, 2013

Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series about student excellence at the university. To read more about some of ASU's outstanding students, click here.

At 15, Tomas Stanton was a high school dropout, a self-described “angry kid with a bad attitude” who was tired of getting threatened by gang members at his school who wanted to fight.

His mother worked long hours to support him and his brother; his father was absent, a drug addict and career criminal. Stanton’s younger brother soon joined him in dropping out of school, smoking marijuana, drifting through low-paying jobs.

Eight years later came Stanton’s epiphany: he wanted the rest of his life to be different, and to achieve that, he had to get an education. By now, working at the Boys and Girls Club, he had passed his GED test, enrolled in Phoenix College and persuaded his brother to do the same.

At that point their paths diverged, as Stanton’s brother Daniel got the chance to attend Arizona Christian University to play basketball. Tomas made the choice to put his own dreams aside, supporting Daniel through four years of college, so at least one of them could get a college degree. Daniel graduated two years ago and is now working in behavioral health and running a nonprofit organization for youth, G Road.

Meanwhile, still working at the Boys and Girls Club, Tomas found a new outlet, discovering a passion and a sense of empowerment in writing about his life. He made a name for himself as a poet and spoken word artist, performing at poetry slams and schools. He co-founded an organization called Phonetic Spit to work with at-risk high school students, teaching them to tell their own stories and express themselves through spoken word performance.

Eventually he was invited to an ASU class as a guest artist. Professor Melissa Britt and instructor Mary Stephens encouraged him, recognizing his talent, his desire to learn and his ability to connect with young people.

Today, at the age of 33, it’s Tomas’s turn to follow his dream.

He is newly enrolled at ASU as a theatre major in the Herberger Institute, also working in outreach as a management intern in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre. He visits local schools to coordinate campus visits for students and guest appearances by ASU faculty at the schools. Through Phonetic Spit he is involved in 10 different high school and middle school residencies. This fall, he and other artists will visit each school once a week for 12 weeks to teach youngsters how to find their voices.

“We create a safe environment where kids can write about their own personal experiences,” Stanton says. “We provide contemporary poetry for them to read, but we’ve disguised the writing and reading as a fun experience. They become hooked when they share with each other what they’ve written, and it makes them want to write more. They become very excited and encouraged when they realize they have things in common.”

Stanton will be the first student enrolled in a new interdisciplinary ASU major – performance and movement – when it is formally launched next year. It’s the first program he’s found that meets his needs as a teaching artist and youth development specialist.

“I never thought an opportunity like this would be presented to me, to work at and study something I love, on such a beautiful campus,” he says. “I’m so grateful I can dive into a field I’m passionate about. I want to create a legacy, to pay it forward by helping other young people who are struggling.”