Three degrees in three years. Two commencements within a month — interrupted by starting an Ivy League master's degree.
It took Kevin P. Wright, 44, a while to figure out how to pursue higher education, but when he got started, he really went after it.
Wright, who received his GED in 2013, is this year's valedictorian at Rowan College at Burlington County. After delivering his commencement speech there Saturday, he will receive his bachelor's diploma from Thomas Jefferson University in June.
Oh, and between the ceremonies, he will start classes toward his master's at the University of Pennsylvania.
"It's been a ton of eating humble pie and working hard," Wright said last week at his Cherry Hill home as his 3-year-old daughter, Amelia, played in the living room behind him.
As one of five children raised by a single mother in Stoke-on-Trent, England, Wright said, he had little hope of pursuing higher education.
Attending a university just wasn't in the cards, he said, for a kid who grew up so poor he put cardboard in his one pair of shoes to try to hide the holes.
And Wright now knows he is dyslexic, which added to his struggles in the classroom.
He did technically pass his high school tests, he said — "a C is a pass" — but he didn't qualify for university in England.
Several years of manual labor, unemployment, and other jobs followed before Wright found himself working in a ceramics factory at night, emptying the kilns. During the daytime off hours, Wright began exploring the still-novel Internet and chatting with Americans.
One of those Americans, a woman named Sarah Richards, took a liking to Wright.
"It was just in a random AOL chatroom; we were still on dial-up," she said. "For some reason, I just clicked on him in a chatroom, and that was it — we started talking and that's it, we never looked back."
They laugh that she "imported" him to the United States in 1998, and they married in 2001.
They lived in her hometown of Hamilton, Mercer County, for a few years, with Wright continuing to work in ceramics and then starting his own handmade tile company.
Wright and his wife moved to Vermont for a while, where they opened a restaurant, Lil' Britain, which he later sold to a friend and is still open today.
Finally, after years of working jobs he didn't love, and with a baby on the way, Wright decided to do what he had always wanted: get a college degree.
Wright wanted "to try to prove the bit of potential I've got," he said. Plus, he wanted "a steady income so we can look after our baby."
After a year at Rowan College at Burlington County, Wright found out he needed to transfer his British high school credentials over, at a cost of around $2,700.
Or he could spend a few hundred dollars taking American GED tests.
"So it really was not worth transferring," Wright said. In 2013, he received his high school credential.
Around the same time, Wright was looking at the courses ahead of him and deciding whether to pursue sonography, as he had initially intended to, or nursing, as he had always hoped.
"I really identified him as an exceptional student," said Neil Phillips, a retired physician who has taught anatomy and physiology courses at the community college for five years. "I encouraged him to think a little bit higher."
Phillips and Wright talked about medical school — "there was no question in my mind that he was completely capable," Phillips said — but entering medical school in his mid-40s seemed unduly time-consuming.
Wright decided he wanted to be a nurse practitioner.
Because of some administrative obstacles, Wright transferred in 2014 to Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia to pursue his nursing bachelor's degree.
A chance conversation with a Jefferson classmate whom he had known at RCBC shocked Wright: Wright had never completed his associate's degree.
He was two classes short of his first college degree — and with a 4.0 grade-point average.
"I was such a C student. All of a sudden I can graduate with a 4.0 GPA," Wright said. "It's not going to mean anything to anybody, nobody will care about it. But I will know I got it — that was why I wanted to finish."
So last summer he took American history and cultural anthropology, maintaining his straight A's and making him the valedictorian for the Rowan College at Burlington County Class of 2016 — the same class he is in at Thomas Jefferson.
Wright expects the master's program to take about three years, after which he'll finally be doing the job he says he is meant for.
Not working in a ceramics factory, or being a real estate agent, personal trainer, or certified fish fryer, all of which he had pursued at one point or another.
"I never got this feeling with any of my other jobs, never got that job satisfaction," Wright said. "When you turn out a really nice plate of fish and chips, and somebody comes up and says, 'Oh, that was really good,' you know, that's nice.
"But when you go into a room and somebody's in pain, and they're filthy dirty, and you can go and you can clean them up, you can make them feel better, you can talk to them, you can reduce their anxiety? It's amazing. The feeling is just fantastic."