cliff hidds speaking at ashford university comencement

I chose to go to college to empower myself with knowledge.


Childhood was not a carefree time for Cliff Hidds. At a young age, he lost his mother. After that tragedy, Cliff had to endure the uncertainty of the foster care system. On paper, the circumstances of Cliff’s early life didn’t look like ideal preparation for a successful college career.

But Cliff is no ordinary young man. Instead of being held back by the difficulties he faced, he used his background as motivation.

“I chose to go to college to empower myself with knowledge in an area I desired to work in for the remainder of my life,” Cliff explained. “This also was a choice to defy the odds placed against me as a young African-American male leaving the foster care system which places insurmountable statistics against any fraction of success.”

Hoping to fulfill a promise he had made to his mother, Cliff began to pursue a degree at a community college in San Diego. For a few years, he was attending school while playing basketball and working full-time for a non-profit organization.

In 2013, Cliff was given an opportunity to radically shake up his hectic life. He was selected as a Guardian Scholar, a program run by Promises2Kids to award college scholarships and mentorship to academically-prepared students who have aged out of the foster care system. Ashford University partnered with Promises2Kids to provide a full-ride scholarship for Cliff to complete his degree at Ashford’s campus in Clinton, Iowa*. So Cliff packed his bags and headed east to the banks of the Mississippi River.

“This alleviated all the stress and heartache I endured daily,” Cliff said about the scholarship. “While at Ashford, I focused on my studies and volunteered with the women’s basketball team.”

Cliff’s interest in basketball fit well with the BA in Sports and Recreation Management degree he chose to pursue at Ashford. And, despite a little bit of culture shock, Cliff thrived at his chosen school.

“I was surprised at the amount of beneficial experiences, relationships, and knowledge – both in the classroom and outside – I gained while at Ashford,” Cliff said. “It opened my eyes to how beautiful humans naturally can be and allowed me to learn about myself more and even educate others at the same time.”

Statements like that are characteristic of the positive way Cliff chooses to view life. That inspirational positivity was one of the reasons why Cliff was asked to serve as the alumni speaker at Ashford’s fall 2016 commencement ceremony.

Cliff is also paying it forward in his professional life. He now works with Promises2Kids as a Guardian Scholar Coordinator and works with Dream Athletix to help San Diego youth use their passion for sports to achieve their dreams.

“I want to be a person who makes an everlasting positive impact on millions of individuals by walking the walk with a smile,” said Cliff. “I know more obstacles are ahead but I will take them down one by one with a smile and the hunger for more to come.”

* Students can no longer enroll in courses in Clinton.

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