After 20 years of obstacles, Sarasota man receives degree

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As Dante Gilliam learns a new lesson, he's teaching us all his own life lesson. 

"Don't give up," he said. 

Dante has been down a long and hard road. 

He started college in 1993, but then took a break for work. 

In the back of his mind, he never gave up on graduating with an associate's degree. 

He went back to the State College of Florida in 2006, but then another hurdle - a massive stroke in his late 40s - forced him to quit. 

He went to live at the Magnolia Health and Rehabilitation Center in Sarasota 10 years ago. The staff there helped him learn to walk again, but during that time, he also got back into his schoolwork. 

"Some people drop out of school and that's sad. You have to reach for your goal," he says.

And Gillam has reached his goal. After 20 years of working toward his goal, he graduates in the fall. 

The State College of Florida has now recognized him for his hard work - awarding him with an Image Award. The award recognizes students who overcome major life obstacles. 

"He encourages all of us, us more than us trying to encourage him," said Shelley Yarosh. 

Yarosh, a former business teacher, now mentors and helps Gillam with school.

Her church, Southshore Community pays for all of his college needs. 

At the age of 57, Gillam will soon earn his degree. 

"He's disciplined and he truly enjoys and is thankful for every small step that he makes towards his goal," said Yarosh. 

The Dean of Students at the State College of Florida Jaquelyn McNeil said he's become an inspiration. 

"Most people who are dealing with the circumstances he has dealt with would probably expect sympathy and pity. He doesn't," said Dean Jaquelyn McNeil. "You look at him and you think oh my goodness the things that this person has overcome and is still here with a smile on his face."

He's proof that giving up should never be an option. 

"Don't give up. Please don't give up. Life is so beautiful," said Gilliam.