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Homeless student to graduate early

by: CINDY FAMA - Austin Sun at Colton High SchoolHe is not the first homeless student to graduate from high school, but as Austin Sun tells his story, you do not feel sorry for him, you are astonished by what he has accomplished.

As a young child Sun was shuttled around between his mother in Alaska, his father in Oregon, an aunt and uncle in California and relatives in Colton. During his elementary school years he would spend one school year in Alaska and the next in Oregon.

“My father once told me, last year your mom got to deduct you, this year I do,” Sun said. “Unfortunately that is what I thought when I was a kid—that was the only reason they wanted me around.”

Sun said he never lived anywhere for more than two years in a row. He attended Colton Elementary school during fifth grade and half of sixth grade, before moving on to numerous other schools and states. When his high school years began, Sun spent his freshman year in Santa Monica, Calif. and then back to Alaska for his sophomore and part of his junior year.

“My mom, her boyfriend and I parted ways and I left Alaska with my girlfriend and headed to Oregon. The relationship didn’t last and I spent that summer—very long summer—finding places to live. I couched surfed and lived in my Bronco.”

Austin decided to attend Colton High School because he already knew people there and said it would be easier and more comfortable.

“I knew it was a choice I had to make,” Sun said.

He had relatives in the Colton area and could use their address for school registration. Unfortunately they already had a full house, taking care of elderly parents, and there was no room to physically add Austin to the household.

He was hired as a courtesy clerk by Molalla Safeway and said he spent nights in his 1992 Bronco. He would get up, go to school and then to work. At one point he took a room in a home with six other people but decided the lifestyle wasn’t what he wanted and left-losing out on about $400 in rent.

I haven’t always made good choices but I have done a lot on my own to survive and it was time for me to take action for me. I was living paycheck to paycheck with just enough money for gas and very little for food,” he said.

Sun was back to using his Bronco for his home, when a work associate invited him stay in a camp trailer on their property. He said it doesn’t have amenities, like running water, but it offers shelter and he finds places for showers.

Austin Sun will graduate from Colton High School on January 30. He has joined the United Sates Marine Corps where he has been accepted into Aviation Specialist Training. He starts boot camp on Feb. 3, in San Diego.

“My grandfather was a Marine and I have wanted to be in the Marines since I was in fifth grade. I took the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test and scored well.”

How did a homeless youth who attended three different high schools accomplish the feat?

“I took biology my freshman year and then tested into chemistry class ahead of schedule. I was ahead in all my classes—math, language arts, science—had all my core classes finished by the end of junior year and just needed six electives to graduate. I included two English classes in with those,” Sun said.

He said that the last time he checked he had all A’s for the term.

“He is mature beyond his years and fit right in, a very bright young man, a good analytical thinker,” said CHS teacher Alan Bruner. “He scored well in chemistry and can grasp difficult concepts very quickly.”

“I map out all the steps I have to take to make my goals happen,” Sun said. “I schedule everything and do it according to that schedule. It is the only way I can make it happen. It is a way I can think and accomplish and not have all the distractions.”

Austin said his parents tell him they feel badly that he had to live and grow up the way he has. He shakes his head as he tells the story and says he isn’t sure ...

“But I appreciate them; and at the same time I have to admit it is partially my fault,” he says.

When asked about the hardest part of his journey, Sun said being hungry.

“There wouldn’t be much money left over for food. I was hungry a lot. You can’t get food stamps until you are 18. When I learned about Colton’s food pantry, it really helped. They helped a lot.”

When asked about what he has learned in his journey, he said this year he learned from Mr. Crane (CHS principal) “You can’t always do it on your own; you don’t have to do it on your own. It is not a weakness to ask for help.”

“During the coldest part of December I found out Austin was living in his car, we really didn’t know his situation,” Crane said. “I started looking for a place for him to live, but he found the trailer. Just last week he had a flat tire and couldn’t get to school on time. He called and we found a way to get tires. I can’t believe what he has accomplished. He did his senior project in half a year and has his future planned. He is an amazing young man. I hope he can get leave and come home and walk with his class at graduation.”

Sun says he has very simple philosophy: “Don’t give up, focus on your goals. Tomorrow is a different day. Today might have been terrible, but I’ll make it through tomorrow.”

With any free time, Sun heads to Guitar Center in Clackamas. “I love playing guitar and they welcome and encourage musicians. It was always a good place to hang out.”

When people ask him if he is nervous Sun explains by comparing it to starting to think about a vacation way too early and then when it is finally here—that, he said, is how he feels, excited and ready to start the next steps of his life.

“I look forward to working together with a group of people where we are all on the same page and working together to be successful. They will help me change for the better. I really like the leadership aspect. I may not be the best leader, but I am a pretty good motivational leader,” he said.



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