Allen Hines looked back at his seat during his graduation ceremony, knowing he was about to be hooded for earning his Master of Arts degree.
He could only describe it as a dream come true — especially after overcoming addiction, homelessness and trauma.
"I guess the best way to put it is, for an addict like me — who was homeless and had no hopes of becoming anything — this is the holy grail," Hines said.
In May, the Chesterton resident graduated with a master's in psychology from Calumet College of St. Joseph. This is his third degree, and he plans to earn a doctorate in psychology next.
However, there was a time when Hines was just trying to survive with no shelter, food or money, and an addiction.
In 1972, Hines dropped out of school at 16 and joined the Navy. Soon after, he experienced something that would stay with him for the rest of his life. When Hines was asleep one night, a shipmate became drunk and attacked him for no apparent reason. Hines was badly cut on his face and needed 60 stitches.
From then on, Hines turned to alcohol and drugs to cope. He recently was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
For more than 25 years, Hines was in and out of treatment and was homeless part of the time. But his mother and daughter, who is attending Purdue University, motivated him to change.
In 2000, Hines earned his associate degree in addictive behaviors from College of Lake County in Illinois.
"I'd say getting that degree was the highest point of my life," Hines said. "It showed me I could do anything I put my mind to. Academia is a thing where now I can't get enough of it."
Afterward, Hines received his bachelor's in chemical dependency from Calumet College of St. Joseph.
While Hines was changing his future, his past was still a part of his life. Because he had PTSD, he struggled with nervousness and reccurring nightmares. He also didn't sleep at night, which he said wasn't bad when he needed to get homework done. School proved therapeutic for Hines, who found the coursework and class schedules kept his mind occupied.
Hines has been addiction free for 20 years and now works at Westville Correctional Facility as a licensed clinical addiction recovery specialist. Hines also runs a veteran's group at the prison, where he works with 40 inmates.
"Helping others — that's success no matter what," Hines said. "If you can just help that one out of a million, that's what I love about psychology. We can change whatever we think ... I know it because it's worked for me. I have a lot of passion for what I do. I don't try to change someone, I help someone change themselves.
"Being an African-American male and a recovering addict, and living with the afflictions I've created for myself, it's something I never thought I could achieve — and now I have. It's ultimate."