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John Strasser in India.

From homeless to USF graduate

TAMPA, Fla. -- Looking at John Strasser now, you wouldn’t know he flunked out of college the first time around.

With sheer determination, Strasser has turned his life around and will receive his bachelor’s degree in religious studies on Aug. 4 from the University of South Florida. A few weeks later, Strasser will be at Columbia University to begin his master’s degree in South Asian studies.

It’s been a long road for Strasser--from college dropout to being accepted into the Ivy League for graduate school.

Initially admitted to USF in 1997, Strasser soon became swept up with non-academic activities and dropped out of college. He eventually became destitute and was living in homeless shelters, he said.

“Originally I left USF because I was never there; I partied constantly, skipped class, received almost all F’s, and began to embark on a life of selfishness and destructiveness that would negatively affect me for 10 years,” said Strasser, who is a recovering alcoholic.

His academic career with USF truly began a few years ago when USF gave Strasser a second chance and re-admitted him to the university in the 2009 spring semester. It was then his journey of discovering his true potential was activated.

He made a remarkable recovery from homelessness and a damaged 0.62 USF GPA to a distinguished academic. Strasser has maintained a 4.0 GPA for more than 100 credit hours. Strasser was awarded several scholarships and recently received the Golden Bull Award.

“Now is the right time to change your life, to finish what you started, and to accomplish what you have always regretted not accomplishing,” Strasser said.

Christie Rinck, Ph.D., Strasser’s academic adviser, said Strasser is a “fantastic student who embodies the concept of learning to live.”

“I consider John’s two biggest strengths to be his perseverance and his vision--perseverance because he has faced multiple obstacles in pursuing his education and has found a way to overcome all of them,” Rinck said. “Second, John possesses an even rarer quality of vision. He can see connections among concepts and has the ability to construct an exploratory path to determine if those connections are valid.”

Strasser demonstrates that challenges always will be present, but the strength and endurance needed to overcome them comes from never giving up.

“USF helped me grow by giving me a second chance,” Strasser said. “With the abundance of scholarships available and help offered to students, including what I believe is the most important resource available on the entire campus—The Writing Center.”

Strasser was eager to take advantage of every learning opportunity and showed great initiative. He spent the 2012 spring semester and the first part of summer in India and all around Southeast Asia doing independent research while taking USF classes online (You can read his blog). While abroad he worked on not one, but two research projects: the impact of Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam on the treatment and definition of women in New Delhi and a second project analyzing Tibetan Buddhism, Catholicism, Sikhism and the Baha’i faith as practiced by locals.

Strasser said he has been inspired to help others, both in his community and around the globe.

“Prior to coming to India for the semester, I coordinated former alcoholics and addicts to speak to juveniles about the dangers of addiction in both a juvenile detox center and a long-term teen drug and alcohol treatment center,” Strasser said in an email. “I speak to inmates in the Hillsborough County Jail and also at Zephyrhills State Prison. I love kids, and last summer, I traveled to Peru and taught English to underprivileged children in a shantytown outside of Arequipa. In New Delhi, I participated in a series of lectures about alcoholism at a medical college and two local hospitals. I offered my experience on the issues, providing an American perspective.”

Strasser said while dealing with alcoholism, he never thought he could ever come back to USF because of the damage he had done to his transcripts. He said he is grateful to the College of Arts and Sciences for giving him a second chance and motivating him to achieve academic excellence.

“All of the successes, the opportunities and the wonderful future that I have now, are in many ways the result of USF first giving me a second chance on campus, thus, in life,” Strasser said in an email.


Filed under:Arts and Sciences Religious Studies Student Success   
Author: Natasha Dwyer