Graduating student now on the path to success

December 12, 2017
Margot Winick
photographer: Brianne Lehan

After graduation, some students will go into internships and jobs, some will continue their education and some will face the unknown.

Among the 3,400 students who will graduate at UF Commencement ceremonies this week will be one who has faced the unknown and rebounded beautifully.

A couple of times, he was homeless.

Michael Hendricks, 38, graduating with a bachelor’s in political science from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, made a series of bad choices, he admits now, that left him flunked out of Boston University, abusing alcohol and living in his car or couch surfing at times when he had nowhere else to go. At one very dark point, he was suicidal.

In 2011, the Bradenton, Florida, native had noticed that people were living in tents as part of the Occupy Sarasota movement. One day, he got to talking to the people involved, and though he had never been a follower of politics, he decided to join them.

He was 90 days into his sobriety when he decided to travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Occupy Washington, D.C., march in early 2012. This experience opened his eyes to the power of joining together to make a statement, and hopefully, make a difference. “A purpose was starting to be given to me,” he says. “I got focus and a direction.”

In the course of this political involvement, he began to help with data entry, then organizers asked him to manage social media for the group. He also tried to start a social media business with the goal of utilizing technology to give citizens more of a say in the political process at the local, state, and national levels.

Continuing with his recovery program, and with a newfound drive to learn more about government, he enrolled in the State College of Florida and got a full-time job at the Porsche dealership in town using the Internet to find parts.

During this period, Hendricks also served as the panel chair for the host committee of an international conference for young people in recovery, which drew 3,500 people to Miami in September 2015. In July 2016, he helped host the state conference for young people in recovery in Sarasota as the registration chair for the host committee.

This commitment to learning about democracy, plus the personal satisfaction of working hard while also earning straight A’s, led him to apply to the University of Florida to study political science, providing that he first pass an online statistics course as a prerequisite. He passed, was admitted and, three weeks after the conference, moved to Gainesville in August 2016.

Today, Hendricks has just completed his third semester and will graduate with straight A's. He approached political science professor and elections expert Dan Smith to work on his senior thesis.

Entitled “Populism Trumps the Agenda,” Hendricks’ thesis examined the data of early voters and Election Day voters and the relationship of the medical marijuana amendment and support for candidate Donald Trump.

“Michael pushed me to work on the project with him,” Smith said. “He has a great eagerness to learn and came in to the project without preconceived notions or conclusions. He worked through the scholarly literature and empirical data to come up with some rather interesting findings.”

Using his data collection skills, Hendricks showed a relationship between ballot-level support and candidate support that was inconsistent for candidate and ballot measures. “These are new questions for scholars to chew on,” Smith said. “I look forward to see what he does next.”

Next is still unknown, at least for a few more weeks. Hendricks is applying to some of the top 30 universities offering Ph.D. programs in political science.

He hopes that his life demonstrates courage and kindness, and he’s open to sharing his experience if it might encourage and help even one person. In late November, he marked being sober for six years.

Many are inspired by his turnaround. Coming to see him graduate and celebrate his hard work and success will be family from North Carolina, Sarasota and friends he has met from many places along the way.

At the commencement ceremony, Hendricks will be honored with the Two-Year Outstanding Scholar award.

“I wake up every day and pray and make a commitment to do the next right thing, whatever that is,” Hendricks said.  “Doing the next right thing is my motivation and keeps me from going to that dark place.”

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