PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) -- It is graduation day at Grand Canyon University.

The university celebrated its 70th year with a record 25,232 graduating students.

We got to catch up with one of those new graduates earlier this week.

We first met Jesse Dalla Riva four years ago. A formerly homeless addict, he won a full-ride scholarship from the Phoenix Rescue Mission and GCU.

On the last day before the last class before finals, we found Jesse Dalla Riva tucked into a corner booth at the campus coffee shop, reflecting on his past.

[WATCH: Faith and a second chance]

"I had no hope at all for any type of future,” Dalla Riva said. "I was on the streets, sleeping on a used mattress between a wind tunnel off the side of the highway, using a tattered tarp to cover myself from the rain, just really in despair.” 

It seems like only yesterday that we were there for Dalla Riva's first day.

Moving into the GCU dorms on a full-ride scholarship, he was finding his footing and seeking structure in a new sober world.

“I reached a point of brokenness and ended up on the streets,” he told us back then. "Stealing, manipulating, hurting everyone I could. ... It was the only life I knew. I was so hopeless and desperate."

[WATCH: 'I was so hopeless and desperate' (August 2015)]

"I don't want to reach my hand into that fire again,” he continued.

Hooked on drugs in high school, Dalla Riva wound up in prison for more than two years.

He spent another year on the streets.

Then he found faith and a second chance at the Phoenix Rescue Mission.

"I look at it as a glorious thing, that I’m not that person anymore,” he said.

Fast forward four years, Dalla Riva is now a husband, a father, a son, a student, a counselor, a mentor, an inspiration and a success.

"It's just a testament to how far God has taken me, how far I've come,” Dalla Riva said.

"It's exciting to see people come from the problem and become part of the solution," said Denise Krupp, one of Dalla Riva's instructors and mentors.

She’s thrilled to see him graduating with a 3.8 GPA and counseling degree in substance abuse.

"Look at what he's become," she said.

She believes spreading the hope inspired by his success can help heal our community that’s stuck in one of the worst drug epidemics we've ever seen.

"To be able to inspire and turn the hearts of these students that (sic) are going to go on and make a huge difference, the domino effect is going to be amazing,” Krupp said.

"Developing a relationship with God is what made it click,” Dalla Riva said. "It set my mind straight.”

He's now come full circle.

He manages three programs at the Phoenix Rescue Mission, helping men with similar pasts see the possibilities in their own futures.

"I never thought I'd be married or have children," Dalla Riva said. "Even when I was getting sober. I thought, ‘All right, this is good enough for me. I'm clean. I have a job,' but then… God gave me more.”

Dalla Riva and his wife are expecting their second baby this August, so they’re getting ready for that, and weighing whether he'll go back to school for his master's degree.

Nicole Crites anchors 3TV's Good Evening Arizona weekdays. Nicole also digs deep into issues affecting Arizonans.  You'll see her reports on 3TV News at 9 p.m.

Copyright 2019 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.


Recommended for you