Cornethan Proud to Be a Statistic in STLCC’s Class of 2016
Walter Cornethan did not want to become a “statistic.”
He is the son of a teen mother who was forced to drop out of school. His father has been incarcerated for various infractions totaling 21 years. All five of his uncles are currently serving prison sentences.
Cornethan himself was suspended from school each year from sixth grade through high school, but did manage to graduate from high school despite a transcript riddled with poor grades.
Cornethan knew he had to make drastic changes in his life or he, too, would become a statistic. So two months after his 17th birthday, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. He married his high school sweetheart two weeks before shipping out for basic training.
After five years of military service, Cornethan and his wife Kenyana returned to the United States. And he enrolled for classes at St. Louis Community College.
“I came back to being an ordinary citizen who had to start from scratch by working minimum wage washing dishes, selling clothes in the mall and other low-paying jobs,” he said. “I quickly realized that only an education would pave my way toward success.”
Cornethan enrolled at STLCC-Forest Park, and thrived. He was inducted into Phi Theta Kappa, the international honor society for two-year colleges, and served as chapter president.
He also has given back to the community. He volunteered to provide backpacks full of donated supplies and lunches to the homeless. He served Thanksgiving Dinner at a local Salvation Army site. He teaches financial literacy to second and third graders through Junior Achievement. He partnered with Missouri Healthcare for All, the Missouri Budget Project and law professors at Saint Louis University to participate in a public forum to advocate for Medicaid expansion in Missouri.
Cornethan, who earned his associate degree in general transfer studies, delivered the student commencement address to the Class of 2016 at STLCC’s Commencement Ceremony May 22 at Chaifetz Arena, where over 850 students walked across the stage.
Kenyana Cornethan was also a member of the graduating class. Walter Cornethan plans to attend the University of Missouri-St. Louis in the fall.
“As I reflect on my life thus far, I think I do want to become a statistic after all,” he said. “I want to be a part of the statistics as a contributor to the community. I want to be a part of the statistics as a successful university graduate. I want to be a part of the statistics as a master’s degree holder. I want to be a part of the statistics as a Ph.D. holder. Like all of you, I am a part of the statistics as a successful community college graduate.”
At the ceremony, Dr. Donald Suggs, publisher and executive editor of The St. Louis American, received an honorary degree for his contributions to the African-American community and to St. Louis as a whole.