Pace U. graduate overcomes multiple challenges to get his diploma

James Hickey looks like any bright-eyed 24-year-old who is ready to take on Wall Street after graduating from Pace University.

But James says that sometimes his emotions can get the best of him.

"I'd love to say I graduated for me, but I graduated for all the people that sacrificed for me along the way," James said. "My dad made me promise when he was sick, 'You're the man of the house, James, you have to take care of things.'"

James was 11 at the time of that promise.

This past Monday, James graduated from Pace University's business school in Pleasantville with a degree in finance. Neither parent was able to be there.

"Growing up in a household where you never really had a normal childhood," James said. "My dad passing away when I was 11 and my mother passing away when I was in my senior year of high school."

It was up to James at 17 to be a homeowner, which was an almost impossibility for a high school senior. The Hickey family home went into foreclosure. The bank padlocked the doors.

"At that moment, that's when I made my plan to go to college and go to community [college] first and get good grades and show that I'm worth it," he said.

James knew he had to be something, so he went to work.

At 18, he started his associate's degree at Westchester Community College. But to pay for that degree, James worked nearly a hundred hours a week at four different jobs. Some nights, he crashed on friend's couch or in the broom closet at a restaurant before starting his next shift as a waiter.

But James said all of that made him work even harder to earn a degree that he hopes will one day pay for itself. He dedicates his degree to his mom and dad.

"I looked out into the crowd and I looked for my parents because I knew they were there," he said. "'That's my James up there doing great.'"