Happy Headlines: From Gang Member to Graduate

KO was once her nickname. Anger was her existence. Death followed her.

But belief and opportunity from adults who ripped through the debris and saw her potential were the agents of change that transformed Monica Watts’ story from high school gang leader to college graduate.

The evolution of her perseverance and dedication to following through on a chance to do something great was officially stamped and documented as the 25-year-old Washington D.C. native crossed the stage and accepted her diploma from Benedict College on December 13, 2014.

College was once a far cry from Watts’ lifestyle. Having lost two brothers, two boyfriends, and various friends to violence throughout her Woodland Terrace neighborhood, located in Washington’s Ward 8, the fight and everyday trials led to a trail of destruction where her fist did most of the talking, hence the nickname “KO.”

Watts wanted better and better came in the form of a now-defunct anti-violence youth organization called, Peaceoholics, when she was 15. Through the group, Monica gained academic encouragement, mentorship and guidance.

But the road to success, in no way, was a smooth transition. Watts’ college experience encountered a few hiccups as she was arrested for public intoxication during her freshman year, got caught up in a campus brawl the same year, and on a return to her hometown to take care of her guardian, had a run-in with an old rival, which resulted in an assault charge and one-year probation.

Despite the fire she’s been through, to have a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies makes the victory even more sweet. That anger and aggression is a thing of the past and to celebrate her commemoration, her mentors and family were right there with her.

Juahar Abraham, one of Watts’ mentors, said in a statement to the Washington Post, that he’s brought 32 students to the Peaceoholics group, and of that 32, Watts is the third to graduate.

We applaud Watts and others like her who continue to fight through their struggle. Know that change is real and life has grand alternatives to adversity. Keep going.

Read more about her journey in this 2008 Washington Post profile.