After battling depression, anxiety and a chronic illness, graduate finds focus, achieves goals.

By Tina Firesheets

Photo by Carrie Lilly

Photo by Carrie Lilly

It’s not too surprising that Guilford Technical Community College grad David Lambert will head to UNC-Chapel Hill this fall to study economics.

Growing up, he was enrolled in academically gifted programs at Aycock Middle and Grimsley High schools. His parents were educators, and it seemed clear that he would follow in their footsteps. But the path from Grimsley to Chapel Hill has been one of twists and turns leading him down side roads and a few dead ends. Many of his hardships were related to living with Crohn’s Disease, a chronic condition that causes inflammation of the digestive or gastrointestinal tract and requires lifelong treatment. The disease also caused Lambert severe depression and anxiety.

In a journey spanning 14 years, Lambert dropped out of college, became a graphic designer, married, divorced, relocated to Oakland, Calif. then returned to North Carolina. He struggled financially and has been laid off and passed over for jobs that went to younger, less experienced candidates with degrees.

When he turned 30, Lambert knew he needed a better career plan. He decided to earn his associate degree at Guilford Technical Community College so he could transfer to a four-year university to study economics. His mother had taught developmental English at GTCC until she retired in 2010, so he knew he’d receive quality instruction. It was also affordable.

Lambert, now 33, received GTCC’s Perseverance Award this year for overcoming great challenges to earn his associate degree on May 11, 2017. His math professor, Lynn Scott, nominated him for the award, and cited his work ethic and commitment to helping others. He was her student last summer in a class of students mostly from other universities.

“It was a very strong class,” Scott said. “He outperformed everybody. He was an amazing student.”

He impressed her so much that she asked him to be a tutor through SPARK, a program at GTCC that uses peer learning to boost students’ academic success in traditionally difficult courses. Lambert excelled, she said: “His work ethic is incredible, but what I really like about him is that he has a heart for helping other people too.” He often tutored peers without compensation, too.

Lambert has overcome a lot to get where he is today. Since he was 15, he’s been dealing with the effects of Crohn’s. His daughter also has the disease. Crohn’s is frequently very painful and severely affects his diet and nutrient absorption. He missed much of his sophomore year of high school because of the disease.

David Lambert. Photo by Carrie Lilly

Photo by Carrie Lilly

“I had a very hard time coming to grips with (the fact) that I’d have this incurable illness the rest of my life,” he said. “I felt very limited by my illness.”

Lambert attended UNC-Asheville, where he planned to major in French language and literature. He thought he’d eventually teach. But the depression and anxiety that plagued him since his diagnosis returned, and he left after a year. Because of the disease, he was unable to do a lot of things that his friends enjoyed in college. It also made dating and intimacy awkward.

Lambert was hospitalized for panic attacks, and spent much of his 20s unanchored.

His career perspective changed after his 30th birthday.

“I started to realize, especially after the recession, that without a degree I wasn’t going to have a very secure future,” he said.

He decided to pursue social sciences.

“Poverty has always been a major concern of mine,” he said. “I wanted to quantitatively address poverty issues.”

He also wants to study how mental and physical health affects economic outcomes. Although he had always been a good student, he still worried about his reentry into academia.

“I was kind of terrified at having to go back at 32,” he said.

Scott has witnessed Lambert’s transformation, from someone unsure of his ability to accomplish his goals to a confident, thriving student.

“It took a while to build up his confidence,” she says. “He’s so far beyond many of our students. He has experienced enough of life that he realizes what he doesn’t want. And he’s seen enough of life to realize what he wants to do in his career to help other people.”

Lambert appreciates the faculty’s role in his success: “By and large, the faculty at Guilford Tech wants to see their students who come from different economic situations succeed and improve the opportunities that are available to them.”

GTCC helped him stay focused, he said. And that’s helped him manage his depression.

“I feel like I’m using talents I wasn’t using in my 20s,” he said. “Having clear goals and doing greater good helps center me and pull me out of my head. Since returning to school, I’m definitely in a better place.”


May 18, 2017