When Christopher Bryant began taking classes at Long Beach City College in 2019, he was unhoused and sleeping in Heartwell Park adjacent to the college’s Liberal Arts campus.

Five years later, the 39-year-old will cross the commencement stage today at LBCC with a 3.9 GPA and an acceptance letter from UCLA — the most difficult college in the University of California system to get into.

“If I can take the good, I can take the bad and my good days far outweigh the bad,” Bryant said. “To me, it’s smooth sailing after this because like, ‘What else can happen?’”

His time at LBCC included sleeping in parks, and during one four-month stretch, in hotel parking lots in El Segundo. He also struggled with sobriety, and with balancing honors classes and club activities while working and searching for housing.

His journey to UCLA marks a big next step in a winding path that led Bryant from his hometown of Fort Pierce, Florida, through various states and eventually to California in late November 2018 when he was 34.

Christopher Bryant outside of classrooms at Long Beach City College where he will graduate before transferring to UCLA in Long Beach, Wednesday, June 5, 2024. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

He had worked in telesales and at a call center for an insurance company before deciding that he wanted to do more with his life, possibly becoming a college teacher or going on to law school to work as a defense attorney.

Bryant, who now has his own place, decided to sleep in his car to save money while looking for full-time work. He found a job on campus, eventually becoming a peer navigator with a new program called Success and Completion Achievement Network, or SCAN, which supports students over 25 who didn’t start college right out of high school.

Students who participate are paired with a mentor who also did not attend college directly after high school.

“I would do my job right now for free because I get so much out of communicating with my peers,” he said.

In addition to his work with the SCAN program, Bryant took advantage of numerous support services, programs and learning communities such as Justice Scholars, Basic Needs, Honors Program, Umoja, Alpha Gammas Sigma Kappa, Extended Opportunity Programs and Services, the Male Success Initiative and Phi Theta Kappa.

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His career aspirations in part come from his life experience, including encountering legal trouble as a youth when he moved in with his sister in Atlanta. There, “They labeled me something that I took to heart. I’m glad in my life I learned never to let anyone tell you what you are, but they labeled me as an aggressive, angry person.”

While in rehab, Bryant said one of his case managers gave him advice that he has carried with him through his education at LBCC: “Never be afraid to ask for help.”

Bryant found out he was accepted to UCLA while riding the bus to an event held by the college’s Umoja Scholars Program, a community dedicated to enhancing the cultural and educational experience of African American students.

It was the same bus route he had taken almost every day for a year, but that day he happened to sit next to a man wearing a UCLA hoodie.

“I told him, ‘I’ve never seen you before, you have this UCLA hoodie on, you’re about to be my good luck charm,’” Bryant said.

LBCC’s Commencement Ceremony will begin at 4 p.m. Thursday, June 6 at Veterans Stadium at the college’s Liberal Arts Campus. Accessibility advocate, actress and singer Jennifer Kumiyama will deliver the keynote message to graduates. Admission and parking are free.