Justin LawsonJustin Lawson, in his words, started the game with no cards.

He grew up in a broken and unstable home. The uncertainties of life led him to a safe haven the home of his grandparents and he persevered, graduating from Betsy Layne High School in 2006 as a recipient of the Governors Scholars and the Commonwealth Scholars.

Lawson wasnt sure he was a fit for college. I had the scholarships, but I didnt feel like I was ready to face the world. I had a lot of growing up to do, he explained.

Following his high school graduation, Lawson started working at ACS as a call center representative and enrolled in classes at Big Sandy Community and Technical College (BSCTC). The transition to adulthood was tough for Lawson, who was emancipated at 16.

I didnt want the hardships I faced to determine my future, he said. I knew that if I dug down deep enough, good things would happen.

That opportunity came in an unconventional way in 2009. During an advising session on BSCTCs Pikeville campus, Lawson learned of a summer program being offered through the federal stimulus package. The program allowed eligible students to gain valuable work experience with hopes of earning a job or gaining knowledge of what to study in college.

Lawson got the best of both worlds.

He was hired at EQT as general laborer, while keeping his full time job at ACS.

It was the hardest I ever worked in my life, but if you want something bad enough, youll do whatever it takes to get there, said Lawson.

He got there and then some.

After working 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. during the week at EQT and pulling the evening shift (5 a.m. to 1 a.m.) at ACS, EQT offered Lawson a job at the end of the summer program.

It was a day that changed my life, Lawson recalled. Here I was a boy from a broken home with no chance with opportunity staring me straight in my face.

Five years later, Lawson is still working for EQT. Hes been promoted twice and currently as a corrosion technician.

But hes most proud of the fact he is continuing his education.

Hard work is just part of it, said Lawson. A big part of it was my desire to earn my education.

He graduated from BSCTC with an Associate in Arts degree in December 2011. Hes currently enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University where he is pursuing a degree in occupational and environmental safety.

I wouldnt be where I am today had it not been for Big Sandy Community and Technical College, said Lawson. They took a young man unsure about everything and assured me that through education, I could do anything.

Lawson, now 26, feels the sky is the limit.

There are times I think about how far Ive come in such a short amount of time, he said. Ill drive by the Pikeville campus and think about all the people inside that building that refused to give up on me. Every hour I work and every step I take, I do it for me, I do it for them and I do it for all the kids out there who feel like they dont have a chance.

His advice to students is simple: work hard.

In order to have a better and brighter tomorrow, we have to sacrifice and work harder today, he said. So, bite the bullet, grind your teeth and push through the work so that one day you all of the hard work will pay off.