High School Dropout to Scholar: Nicholas Carmack Walks His Own Path
By: Nick Santangelo
There is no single path to success, a fact that senior Nicholas Carmack knows all too well. The Sociology major is on track to graduate in December and was a finalist for the prestigious Truman Scholarship, but the Utah native’s journey here has been anything but a straight line.
Like his father and all but one of his siblings, Carmack didn’t graduate from high school. At the time, he didn’t care enough to go to class and get his work done, and he found it difficult to build a strong career without an education.
Seemingly rudderless, Carmack began turning his life around by spending time at the local library, where he suddenly took to reading and learning like a fish to water. He then took up an offer from his only sibling with a high school diploma to come live with him near a community college in Portland, Oregon. Carmack earned his GED and enrolled in the community college in 2015. He became student body president, named Oregon’s 2018 New Century Scholar by the Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society and graduated in 2018.
From there, Carmack wanted to experience something different. He wanted to leave the West Coast behind for the Northeast.
“And so Temple University's where I got in, and I'm very, very glad I came here,” says Carmack. “A lot of opportunities have opened up for me.”
Carmack chose the College of Liberal Arts because he wanted to major in Political Science at Temple, as he had at community college. But his first Temple semester and an internship he had previously had in the Oregon House of Representatives taught Carmack that politics wasn’t for him. After taking Professor Marc Lamont Hill’s Liberation: Here and Abroad course, he found his path forward.
“I saw that Dr. Lamont Hill was engaging in social change and activism in his personal life as well as his career, researching stuff to inform social change,” explains Carmack. “And that really reconnected with me with the original idea I had when I went to college of wanting to be a history professor.
“But once I started getting involved in social justice work, I was like, ‘Oh, someone else will be a professor. I need to be on the front lines of activism.’ Meeting and seeing the way Dr. Lamont Hill operates in and out of the classroom made me realize I can be a professor and still be on the front lines of creating social change. He became my mentor and really helped guide me towards the path that I see myself on, which is getting a PhD in cultural anthropology.”
Seeing how Temple’s interdisciplinary Sociology program could lead him to anthropology graduate programs, Carmack switched majors. This new path is empowering him to focus his life on educating people on the current moment in history, which Carmack calls “unprecedented” in terms of climate change, late-stage capitalism, the shifting economy and the uncertain future.
“I want to use anthropology and sociology as tools to figure out how we can develop pedagogies and curriculums that can help provide the tools to insert important conversations where they're not already being had,” says Carmack.
Before becoming an educator, however, Carmack’s immediate goal for this semester was securing that Truman Scholarship. A few years ago, he crossed paths with a Truman scholar who praised the program, but Carmack still didn’t know much about it. Still, he applied for the same reason most students apply to scholarships: to save money on his education. Going through the long and challenging application process, however, showed Carmack there was more to it than money.
“The real benefit to the Truman Scholarship is that you have all of these people who have committed their lives to public service,” he says. “About 60 people every year are added to the Truman family of committed public servants who showed excellence in leadership. Collectively, we can work together, play strategically in all different sectors of society and help raise society up in a very unique way.”
And while Carmack found out this month that he wasn’t selected for the scholarship, he has persevered on his educational journey nonetheless. And that’s despite going through another bump in the road—one every student and educator is experiencing alongside him. A magnanimous Carmack says his biggest concerns during the COVID-19 shutdown are for low-income, food and rent-insecure students since it’s often those with the fewest resources who suffer the most during a crisis.
Carmack’s story will hopefully serve as inspiration for those facing uncertain futures, as he once did. The senior says he wouldn’t believe it if his high school self could see how far he’s come today. His path to success might not be right for everyone, but it shows that there is a path for everyone.
“I think that I succeeded because of my specific circumstances, and everyone's circumstances are different. You have to know the nuance of that. But I would say find something you're passionate about learning about and learn something about that every day.”