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Adam Shepard: College Graduate Built New Life From $25

Did the Guy Who Built a Life From $25 Prove the Dream Is Alive?

Earlier this week, I told you about Adam Shepard, the guy who left his comfortable life to start again with $25 and a gym bag. The Today Show interviewed him yesterday morning, and I wanted to share the segment with you because they discuss some interesting points.

The Today Show host suggests that Adam's college education put him at an advantage and he admitted that was true, but reiterated his belief that the American Dream is alive and it's an "attitude" that isn't limited to a certain economic class. Something that stood out to me was when she asked him if he was ever nervous that he wouldn't make it, and he answered that he was nervous for his safety but didn't say whether he was worried about failing. I wonder if that confidence comes from his steadfast belief in the Dream, or if it lays in the fact that he has a back-up plan — his family's home in North Carolina and his college-educated background.

In his book, Adam writes, 'I aim to find out if the American Dream is still alive, or if it has, in fact, been drowned out by a clashing of the classes.' Do you think he accomplished his goal?

Join The Conversation
CoralAmber CoralAmber 9 years
I'm kind of surprised that no one mentioned his health yet. He is a very healthy young guy who has probably had the advantage of health care all his life. He is strong and healthy enough to be a mover. Also, in Nickel and Dimed, her experiment was a little different because she chose to try to afford housing from the start and work in common minimum wage jobs available to women.
natalie5785 natalie5785 9 years
To strengthen your point about schools also – they’re primarily funded by local property tax dollars; thus, if you live in a neighborhood where no one owns their homes (i.e. – the projects) or the property value is low, there is less money to fund local schools. So the schools have fewer resources than schools in more affluent neighborhoods and usually provide a lower quality education to the students who attend.
minaminamina minaminamina 9 years
He's white, a man, with a college degree, speaks in standard English, no accent, was raised middle class, had a supportive family, etc. He has an advantage, that's for sure. People in this country who are in poverty are not lazy - most people on welfare work 2 or 3 jobs, only utilize it for 2 years, and only do so when they still cannot make ends meet with their work. Most people out of work in this country are not lazy - they literally have NO access to jobs, whether due to credential restrictions (remember, our educational system is still segregated, and is one of the worst in the world), racism, sexism, or lack of access due to traveling restrictions because of no bus line/metro rail/train/car. It's petty to accuse people in the working class or in poverty of being lazy just because they have had more to overcome in life than most of us could ever imagine. The average income of someone in this country is $45,000/year - that is only enough to sustain a family of 4, and not if any of those 4 happens to be disabled, an infant, etc. Then take into account the sort of neighborhood you live in if you earn 45,000 - then take into account the school your children go to... rundown, overcrowded, access to 1/4th of the resources a suburban school might receive, so inevitably you go to school with other poor kids, have little motivation, get stuck in the system, and that's why drop-out rates, drugs, and criminality are so high in these areas. It's not because people are lazy, it's because we do not care enough as a nation to educate everyone equally - a good education, with supportive people around you, is tantamount to making the American Dream happen. But if you never had access to these things, as the majority of urban students have not, then you may never be able to escape the cycle of class poverty.
a1stbornunicorn a1stbornunicorn 9 years
I'm a little surprised no one has commented on the fact that while this experiment might prove successful for a man, there is no way a woman would be able to get along on the streets as easily. If he feared for his personal safety, how would a woman be able to defend herself? I think there would be a greater dependence on social programs for a single woman than a man, if not for that reason alone. I mean, even Barbara Ehrenreich ended up quitting Wal-Mart because she just couldn't make it happen.
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
Geri, Fabulous POV!
GeriAnne1932 GeriAnne1932 9 years
You know what would make this a better story of the American Dream? If it was "real"....we so rarely hear those stories. So rare that when it happens, we make it into a movie. Everyone knows that someone can do it for an experiment because they have the drive to make it prove it. So, where is the real thing happening? Is it?....if this is the American Dream...why isn't everyone doing it? There's a lot of other issues, self fulfilling prophecies, racism, classism, laziness, poor decision making, education, personality, families, bad luck....all those things happen in the real life. If I was conducting an experiment, I'd weigh all the barriers and defeat them. Do "real" people do that? What tools do they have? He learned in college the value of hard work and if a person growing up in a poor community is not surrounded by that, doesn't learn that, how can they do this??
girlgreen girlgreen 9 years
i completely agree with natalie5785.
DFlyGoddess DFlyGoddess 9 years
Natalie, I agree with you 110%! This experiment, in my opinion, is not much different than Barbara Ehrenreich's "Nickel and Dimed."
TidalWave TidalWave 9 years
There are many homeless people with Bachelor's degrees...
bellaressa bellaressa 9 years
Right on natalie5785! I will not even go even comment since I have on the previous thread about this subject.
natalie5785 natalie5785 9 years
So just to clarify my position, I'm a black female Harvard grad from a lower-middle class family of Caribbean immigrants (let's hear it for student loan debt!). I won't even pretend like my opinions aren't biased due to my life experiences. But having known plenty of people who grew up comfortable and secure, unlike myself, it is clear to me that their experiences and mine left us with very different feelings about what motivation and confidence can really amount to. I think my academic success is due to supportive parents, but I recognize that many of the people in my old neighborhood were not so fortunate. I can't talk about life success yet cause I just graduated so it remains to be seen whether or not I make something of myself. I think there is no doubt your background gives you a better advantage and last I checked, desire doesn't pay the bills. It is one thing to start off as an adult, as Adam did, in a hard situation and quite another to be born into one. By the time Adam found himself in that shelter, his views about life had already been formed; he already believed that life was fair and that self-confidence and motivation were the keys to success. I think the impact of being surrounded by poverty and hopelessness in your youth leads people to hold fairly low expectations of their chances of success. And often with good reason! ( In addition to the purely economic advantages of coming from a better background, there are also the social ones. Knowing how to carry yourself in situations, knowing how to dress for a job interview, your parents connections, etc. You're absolutely right, there are plenty of successful ethnic people in America and some of them aren't even president or presidential hopefuls, but don't let the few notable exceptions fool you. I can't speak for all minority groups, but I do feel confident saying that not all of Black America is living the dream, especially since the US Census Bureau reports that 24% of us live below the poverty line and the median income for a black family is $20,000 less than the median income of a white household. And you're right, he didn't mention his college credentials but I like to think that going to college gave me skills and confidence that I wouldn't have had I not attended. So I’m unwilling to discount the four years he spent in college just because he didn’t list them on his resume. Look, I do think the American Dream is alive and I do think people could do much more if they believed in themselves, but I also feel strongly that there are barriers to success that are not obvious and that affect some social or ethnic groups more than others.
JessLehry JessLehry 9 years
I don't know necessarily about the american dream, but I do think his experiment proves that no one (with the exception of those with serious handicaps) should be living off the government's money. (and ours, as taxpayers) I mean, anyone can get off their butt and get a job and have an apartment, car, etc. People need to stop being so lazy and stop taking advantage of the welfare system.
SkinnyMarie SkinnyMarie 9 years
He did not list his college education on any job applications or made it known in any way.
SkinnyMarie SkinnyMarie 9 years
Good point abbigail. Also success goes beyond who the president it. Just ask savvy about women Ceo's
ccsugar ccsugar 9 years
I definitely think his background gave him an advantage. His education, support system, race... I think most Americans w/o a college education would've had major difficulties accomplishing what Adam did.
Abbigail Abbigail 9 years
I don't understand why coming from a better background gives you a better advantage? Why doesn't the desire to escape a hard life out weigh the "confidence" a good family can give? How can you say that people of different races have not lived the american dream? There are black, white, asian, hispanic millionaires. Plus, have you limited the american dream to the presidency? There are black congressmen, senators, govenors, even a simple business owner is an example of the american dream. Are you forgetting Colin Powell, Barack Obama, Condoleezza Rice, Clarence Thomas? I used to think that it had so much to do with birth right but so many people I've talked to who are well off started out very poor. The dream doesn't come in a few years, it takes years and years for people to achieve what they have.
SkinnyMarie SkinnyMarie 9 years
I would like to add that he is donating a portion of the sales of the book to the crisis ministries where he lived for 70 days.
natalie5785 natalie5785 9 years
I disagree strongly. While I'll concede that being confident and motivated will go a long way to help you achieve your dreams, I think your background can have an incredibly large impact on your self-confidence and motivation. I there are a lot of people in America who don't have people to look up to or encourage them or come from neighborhoods where the people around them haven't made anything of themselves and that can have a really damaging impact on self-esteem. I think the mindset of someone who has lived on the street their whole life or has faced tough times is drastically different than that of someone who grew up with comfort or security like Adam. He has every reason to be confident, whether he disclosed it or not, he's college educated, he has supportive parents and he seems as though he's been shielded from some of life's harsher realities. Case in point: think of all of the smart women who have lived on this planet, yet not one before Hilary Clinton has been a serious contender for a presidential nomination. You think that seeing her doesn't impact the millions of little (and big) girls who now might consider becoming commander in chief a possibility, even though the thought may have never crossed their minds before. But consider what it's like on the other side of that...if the people who look like you and come from your neighborhood or even your parents have not achieved the American Dream, what would make someone believe they could do it? His experiment is a joke. I think many of the barriers to "making it" do have to do with class which is still tied to race in this country, whether or not people are willing to admit it. It'd be interesting to see how a black, hispanic, asian, or other minority person with the same credentials would perform in the same experiment...I think that would be much more telling of whether or not the American Dream is alive.
Shopaholichunny Shopaholichunny 9 years
I agree with both of ya'll! I believe that you can do anything you want as long as you work hard and stay focused. Especially in the USA. We have so many opportunities given to us here. We are incredibly blessed and that's why so many people want to live here. Alot of people overseas still believe in the "American Dream" it's just that alot of people here are lazy and just want everything handed to them. That's not the way it works unless you're someone like Paris Hilton. :OY:
SkinnyMarie SkinnyMarie 9 years
I think I agree with him 100% from that interview, especially in the beginning about teenagers just wanting wanting wanting. We are so materialistic that we have no idea how much you can save. And as he said it wasn't just about him, it was about other people who were also living the dream without the college education. College doesn't teach you confidence and motivation, you have to teach yourself confidence and motivation. I know plenty of people who have graduated from some pretty good schools and don't have the confidence to try to get a better job and succeed in their life goals.
Lovely_1 Lovely_1 9 years
I think you can do anything if you are motivated enough and have that drive :)
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