"Where I come from, the mindset is that only rich people can go to college,” said Jake Simmons, a SUNY Buffalo State senior who grew up in Rochester and is studying history, religion, and philosophy as an individualized studies major.
Simmons, 26, not only transcended that mindset but also a litany of childhood tragedies to land where he is today—on the cusp of graduation with a promising career ahead as a professional basketball player overseas and inspirational speaker.
When Simmons entered Buffalo State in 2009, he had survived a house fire, his mother’s illness and death, estrangement from his imprisoned father, foster care, a car accident that left him temporarily paralyzed, and a bout with homelessness. All along, basketball was the one constant Simmons could cling to. Initially, he sought to play college ball for the glory and chance to wear his own number season after season.
Simmons definitely found glory at Buffalo State. In December, he broke the late Randy Smith’s all-time school scoring record of 1,712 points. But it was the encouragement Simmons received from Head Men's Basketball Coach Fajri Ansari, along with other faculty and staff, that helped Simmons realize that education supersedes basketball, that college could be life-changing.
“I had come to college to better myself and was determined to finish,” he said. “I realized I couldn’t control my environment, but I could control my decisions.”
Simmons also discovered he was far from the only student facing financial and other challenges.
“I met people who came from similar and even worse backgrounds,” Simmons said. “They made me want to stay at Buffalo State even more.”
Simmons has shared his triumphant story with reporters, with high school and college students, and residents of the local juvenile detention center.
“My whole message is: In life there are things you cannot change. Why complain about them?” he said. “But the things you can change, such as getting an education, use to your benefit. Take control of your life and don’t blame others for what is not right in your life.”
Simmons couldn’t have made this life-changing journey without financial help, which he received through grants and scholarships.
Numerous Buffalo State students receive much-needed scholarships through the annual Faculty and Staff Appeal. To learn how you can help, contact Louis Noce at (716) 878-3467. Download the complete list of funds.