Penn State student overcomes ‘juvenile delinquent’ label to earn degree

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — When Scott Earnest, of Lewistown, earns his degree Dec. 21 during Penn State’s fall commencement ceremonies, he will be defying expectations after a troubled history in the juvenile criminal justice system to earn an associate degree in letters, arts and sciences. His parents and 88-year-old grandmother will be at commencement to watch the first member of the Earnest family graduate from college. Earnest has taken most of his courses at the University Park campus and some at the Penn State Lewistown Center.

“I rebelled at age 14 or 15 because of my strict upbringing and ended up in the juvenile criminal justice system and ultimately in reform school,” said Earnest, the father of two sons: Aaron and Aaden; with their mother and his domestic partner, Suzanne Debo. “Court authorities told my parents I would end up in prison. I’m one of 13 grandchildren and probably the last member of the whole Earnest clan my family thought would be successful. It was a dream for me to go to Penn State.”

Earnest will speak about his experiences during the World Campus and Continuing Education Graduation Celebration from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 20, at the Nittany Lion Inn.

His secret to success is: “With determination, anything is possible.” With a “juvenile delinquent” label, he noted, “a stigma is attached to you, and you don’t get support.” Earnest conducted a student research project on how music affects juvenile delinquency and found that several police officers refused to work with him on the project because of his history.

Earnest first enrolled at Penn State in 1995, but left to find a job to support his family when his oldest son, Aaron, was born. He returned to Penn State in 2005 until his employer closed down, eliminating his job. He found a position at a facility with children who have autism and developmental disabilities, and in 2010, he was inspired by the determination of these young people to try school again.

Next, Earnest will continue his education at Penn State Lewistown Center for a bachelor’s degree in rehabilitation and human services. “If I can turn around just one kid on the cusp of making bad choices, it will be worth it. I will be able to draw on my experiences when I was turning for the worse to get kids to re-evaluate where they want to be,” said Earnest. “My personal motto has been: Decisions determine destiny.”

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Last Updated December 16, 2013