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Owens commencement speaker evolves from inmate to graduate -- and his daughter admires him

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Brad Higgs, with his daughter Alasha, prepares to give his commencement speech at Owens.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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When Alasha Higgs was 4 years old, living with her mother in Toledo, she received a photo from her father in prison.

Today, at age 13, Alasha still proudly has the photo of her father Brad Higgs who today is graduating from Owens Community College with honors. 

"A lot of people don't expect people to come from that to this," Alasha said. "And I'm so proud of him. He's my role model."

Higgs of Toledo was chosen as the student speaker for Owens' commencement ceremony because of all he has been through and because he has earned an associate degree in criminal justice with a 3.8 grade point average.

Commencement will be held at 7 p.m. today in the Student Health and Activities Center on the college’s campus in Perrysburg Township..

Higgs recalled how, at age 10, he was homeless in the north side of Toledo with his three siblings. 

"We lived in a garage and pumped gas to support ourselves," Higgs said. "We would just go to the local arcade and play video games all the time too. Homelessness led to criminal activity, so I had run ins with the police."

When he was 15 he and his 14-year-old sister were adopted by their older sibling who was 21, but that did not keep Higgs out of trouble.

Criminal activity ranging from drug abuse to burglaries put him behind bars. He served seven years in prison, "and I'm not giving them another minute," he said. 

"You ask young people why they are doing certain things - it is all I know," he said about the oft-heard reply. "You grow up in a community and around people that is all they do is sell drugs, and people were prosperous doing it. It looks nice, but one type of criminal activity leads to another."

During several visits to a half-way house with the Volunteers of America Higgs decided he was going to stop getting into trouble and said he rededicated his life to faith. He began working at the Volunteers of America and became a supervisor while starting school at Owens.

Higgs, 35, said he never thought back then he could do something like what he has accomplished now. 

"Looking back at some of the things I've done, I would never imagined this," he said. "I was living a life of crime and I would've never pictured this day."

Tonight Higgs will share his story with 740 Owens graduates and their families.

He was selected to be the student speaker by Laura Moore, executive director of the Owens Alumni Association, and others. Ms. Moore said there was a record number of students nominated to speak.

"The series of gang stories by [The Blade] personified the hopelessness he had as a child," she said. "And for him to overcome it, and have the desire and focus to excel at Owens is great. I think students will be surprised tonight to hear he graduated with honors and folks in the audience will be inspired to return or start college."

Higgs wants to tell people they can succeed just as he did.

A key theme, he said, will be "If I can do it, you can do it." 

In August, Higgs will continue his criminal justice studies at the University of Toledo. He wants to help young juveniles and give them guidance to overcome problems as he did.

Daughter Alasha was like a proud parent during the graduation rehearsal, wearing her father's honors cords around her neck. A pink flower accented her hair. 

"I was kind of sad when I didn't know my father," she recalled. But she had that photo of him, and today, it is a treasured keepsake. "Every day I look at [the photo] and touch it, and pray for him. He's moved on with his life and is doing better."

And every day, she says "I love you, Daddy."

Contact Matt Thompson at: mthompson@theblade.com or 419-356-8786 or on Twitter at @mthompson25.

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