Reichwein, who has battled depression and PTSD, was living in a tent in a wooded area adjacent to the Fredericksburg Industrial Park when he enrolled at GCC in 2011.
In spite of the problems he faced, Reichwein excelled, graduating from Germanna a year later with a 3.94 GPA while working 32 hours a week. He transferred to William & Mary and earned his bachelor’s degree there last August. He’s currently a social worker with the Salvation Army in Fredericksburg, using his experiences to help others.
A total of 646 students were awarded 1,112 degrees and certificates Thursday night during commencement exercises at the Fredericksburg Expo Center.
The 32-year-old Thornburg resident’s never-give-up message is one that failure needn’t be the end—that it can drive one on to success.
“I was ready to change,” he said. “I had been homeless almost three years. I had to start doing things differently. I worked hard to do it and I received help from others.”
|Daniel Reichwein speaks at Thursday's commencement|
He said Micah Ministries, which works with the homeless in Fredericksburg, helped him get a part time job and suggested he enroll at GCC. One of Micah’s employees drove him to the college.
Another Micah employee, Dawn Witter, took him in.
“She opened her home to me,” Reichwein said. “I’m not sure I would’ve been able to finish my studies at Germanna if I’d lived out of a tent for two semesters.”
He called his three years of homelessness “a learning experience” and said much of what he learned came when he put aside his own concerns to help other homeless people.
“What’s made the biggest difference in my life is failure—three years of homelessness, dropping out of college without finishing and being discharged from the military basically for not showing up for work,” Reichwein told a crowd of 2,000 Thursday night at the Fredericksburg Expo Center.He was given an honorary discharge as an Army Reservist due to depression.
“Failure drives success,’ he said. "Failure strengthens us. I teaches us. It enables us to change.
|Daniel Reichwein and Thursday's crowd|
The second crucial component in changing his life was tenacity, he said.
“Nobody is going to give you anything in life. You need to earn what you receive, to continue to strive and never accept defeat. You’re better than your past failures and you’re more capable than you think.”
After graduating from William & Mary, he said, “I thought things would be easy.” But a job offer in Washington fell through and he nearly found himself homeless again.
“Things worked out and I was able to get a job as a social worker here in town with the Salvation Army. I’ve learned to relish the good moments while I pursue the longer term goals I have.”
“You’re better than your past failures,” he told the crowd Thursday night. “You’re more capable than others think. Know that you were meant to make a difference in this world, regardless of where you come from.”
Finally, he learned that satisfaction and a sense of completeness must be derived from within oneself.
“For years I chased externally derived fulfillment,” based on earning others’ praise [or the idea of becoming affluent]. This led me nowhere… It only led to being unhappy and depressed
“I’m in charge of my own dreams now,” he said. “And I’m just getting started. And so are you.”