Foster Care Youth Overcomes System & Excels at Saint Leo, One of Top Universities in Central Florida

December 20, 2011

When a Dr Pepper representative told Antron McCullough the video he had submitted to the company's Million Dollar Tuition Giveaway Contest was the most touching they'd ever received, it was no exaggeration. McCullough, who spent his youth in and out of foster care and coped with years of emotional abuse, has turned his struggles into success. As a student of business administration at Saint Leo University, one of the top universities in central Florida, the 23-year-old is on his way to attaining the prize he most covets: a career as a motivational speaker helping youth achieve their dreams.

Rising Above Hardship to Help Others

While growing up in Lake County, Fla., McCullough was shuffled between seven or eight foster homes, adopted by an abusive pastor, and forced back into the foster system. In elementary school, he was sent to live with Otis and Mary Johnson, foster parents who gave him what he had always longed for—love and stability. Still deeply involved in his life, they encouraged McCullough to succeed academically, cheered him on in sports, and reminded him that he ended up in foster care through no fault of his own. Today, McCullough calls the Johnsons "Mom and Dad."

In his one-minute video to Dr Pepper, McCullough explains that he advocates for youth in foster care “who want normalcy and don't have a voice of their own.” As president of his local Youth Advisory Board and a peer mentor with Kids Central, Inc., a Florida not-for-profit agency, McCullough is that voice. He listens to kids in foster care and those who “age out” of the system, and takes their concerns to lobbyists in Tallahassee, Fla. He conducts speaking seminars and teaches life skills classes, showing kids how to cook, fill out job applications, and succeed independently. For his service to foster children in the community, FosterClub recognized McCullough as one of 100 Outstanding Young Leaders in 2010.

“I want every foster kid to have a chance like I had,” says McCullough. “Talents are given to be used. If you allow somebody the opportunity, they will go out and use those talents for the better.”

McCullough has used his talents not only to excel as a college student and youth advocate, but also as a government intern in Washington D.C. Since 2009, he has interned during summer and winter breaks with the Department of Energy's National Nuclear Security Administration, helping contribute to policy aimed at reducing the nuclear stockpile around the world.

Not Another Statistic: Striving to Succeed

According to FosterClub, many of the 29,000 young people who age out of foster care each year fall victim to homelessness, unemployment, incarceration or illness, and fewer than 3 percent graduate from college.

Dr Pepper found McCullough’s story so compelling that they offered him $2,500 and a chance to compete in a national competition for a $100,000 scholarship at the nationally televised Big 10 Championship Game on Dec. 3, 2011. During the halftime face-off, McCullough threw nine footballs into a giant replica of a Dr Pepper can to place second, and win a $23,000 scholarship. McCullough plans to apply the scholarship toward his senior year studies at Saint Leo University.

About Saint Leo University

Saint Leo ranks as one of the top universities in the South, according to U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” list. Saint Leo’s traditional liberal arts campus, located 30 miles north of Tampa, educates more than 1,900 students. Total enrollment across its campus, regional education centers, and online programs exceeds 15,000. Among the oldest Catholic universities in Florida, Saint Leo is one of the nation's 10 leading providers of higher education to the U.S. military, and is a nationally recognized leader in online education.