From homelessness to graduation, this Trojan fights on against all odds

Ethan Ward started his postsecondary education in his mid-30s, and even lived in his car for a year to help make his college dreams come true. Now he’s a member of USC’s Class of 2021.

May 14, 2021 Chandrea Miller

Washington, D.C., native Ethan Ward followed his dream of acting to Hollywood, but soon that dream turned into a nightmare when the aspiring actor found himself out of a job and out of a home.

“The entertainment work started getting less frequent and I realized I didn’t have the passion for it, so I had to decide what my priorities are,” he said. “And what was really important to me was finishing school.”

That’s when Ward enrolled in Los Angeles City College.

“I knew that if I finished school it would lead to better job offers, so I got student loans and grant money to help pay for it,” he said, “but that left me with a finite amount of resources. I knew I definitely could not afford to stay in my apartment and so I kind of rationalized in my mind, ‘Hey, I’ll just live in my car, how bad can it be? It will be like camping.’”

But it wasn’t at all like camping.

“Once I fell into homelessness, I knew I really had to finish school because it was the only way I was going to get out of this situation,” Ward said. “I didn’t even tell anyone except my siblings because I was so embarrassed.”

After living in his car for more than a year while earning his associate degree, he began researching universities for transfer students.

“I Googled universities in Los Angeles and one of the first schools that popped up was USC,” Ward said. “I thought, ‘Why not me?’”

Persistence was key for 2021 USC graduate Ethan Ward

After all, Ward graduated magna cum laude from L.A. City College, an academic honor of distinction that is typically awarded to a student who graduates in the top 10% or 15% of their class.

Ward’s GPA was nearly a 3.9 and he was hopeful: “There was an endgame in sight as long as I could transfer.”

There is nothing standing in your way except yourself.

Ethan Ward

Ward knew an acceptance letter from USC would not only mean a top-notch education but college housing that would get him out of his car and off the streets. He applied as a sophomore transfer and didn’t make the cut.

“I was devastated but determined,” he said, and he applied again as a junior transfer.

“When I first applied, I was trying to show a specific side of me that wasn’t really who I am,” he said. “So, when I applied the second time, I was 100% myself because I didn’t have anything to lose. I just put it all out there and hoped it was enough.”

Apparently, it was more than enough. Ward was accepted to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in journalism and his master’s in public diplomacy.

“I just want people to know that if you really want to do something, just do it,” he said. “There is nothing standing in your way except yourself.”