Not many of Kenneth Hamilton’s boyhood school mates are around anymore.
“They’re either dead or in jail,” the 25-year-old Purdue University Calumet senior and product of Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood said.
That has been a wake-up call for Hamilton, who is looking forward to graduating from Purdue Calumet Saturday (12/12—11 a.m.) with a degree in political science as the first college-degreed sibling in his family.
He plans to attend law school and eventually—he’s hopeful—follow in the footsteps of the late Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American U.S. Supreme Court Justice.
Supreme Court Justice was role model
As a 14-year-old middle school student, Hamilton adopted Marshall as a role model after writing a paper about him for a school assignment.
“I kind of identified with him, because some of the struggles he went through, I’ve gone through,” Hamilton said.
Another role model for him has been his college-educated mother, who has been the primary parental influence in a family household that has included Kenneth and five siblings.
His support team
Additionally, Hamilton is quick to credit and thank a support team of several other adult mentors who have encouraged him along the way.
“They’ve all played a role in my development,” he said. “Without them I don’t know where I would be; I contact them, and they keep in touch with me. They wouldn’t let me give up and have encouraged me to keep up with my schooling.”
While growing up in a gang-influenced neighborhood, Hamilton said he kept to himself with few friends. He graduated from Hyde Park High School and then Kennedy King Chicago City College two years later, qualifying for a scholarship to Purdue University at West Lafayette to complete his baccalaureate degree.
Decision to attend Purdue Calumet
When he could not afford to attend, even with the scholarship, his Kennedy King advisor encouraged him to check out “the Purdue campus in Hammond,” he said.
He did, he enrolled, he got involved with student affairs on campus, and he expanded his horizons culturally.
“My first friends on campus were Brazilians,” Hamilton said, referring to representatives of Purdue Calumet’s international enrollees, who comprise 9 percent of the student body. “Through their needs, I saw things that made me realize the campus transportation system needed to serve students better.
“Another friend, Dan Gronili, vice president of the Student Government Association on campus, encouraged me to get involved, so I ran for Senator and won. I’ve been on other committees as well, and I’d like to think I had a part in the improvements that were made to the student shuttle transportation system.”
Commitment to helping classmates
Associate Professor of Political Science and Student Government Association faculty advisor Meg Rincker has been impressed with Hamilton’s commitment to helping and representing classmates through his SGA involvement.
“Kenneth has a keen sense of how his coursework and community service at Purdue Calumet form the building blocks of his future career in public service,” she said.
After graduation, Hamilton plans to spend the winter months taking advantage of a Chicago law firm’s generous offer to mentor him for the Law School Admission Test (LSAT) he plans to take this spring.
“Set goals, stick to them and avoid the negativity in your life,” he said when asked what success advice he would offer other students. “Purdue Calumet has helped me by giving me an experience I didn’t realize was possible.”