Against great odds
Once homeless, senior to get high school diploma Sunday
Most of his classmates, and spectators squeezed into the Community Building gymnasium Sunday, won’t know what a high school diploma means to 19-year-old Lance Miesbauer when he steps across the stage.
While most graduates had hot meals, soft beds and parental guidance throughout their high school career, Lance spent part of a year homeless, hungry and jobless.You could say that Lance started out with the odds against him. His father was in prison on drug charges and his mother was trying her best to raise him.
Around age 14, Lance started to get in trouble.
“Random stuff with people I thought were my friends,” he said.
Lance was also experimenting with drugs and was arguing with his mother and other relatives. He became increasingly angry.
Especially when his father wrote and asked if he could meet Lance, who was 16 at the time.
“He didn’t do anything for me in my life and then he wanted to talk to me,” Lance said.
With no close friends, Lance spent much of his time in his room listening to music.
“I felt like a loner.”
Charged with terrorist threats and disturbing the peace, Lance spent several months in the Dawson County Jail.
At 17, he dropped out of school for awhile and then returned and quit again.
Kicked out of his home, because of a protection order filed by his mother, Lance found himself homeless in late fall of 2010.
With only the clothes on his back, and no identification to help get a job, he couldn’t return to his house to retrieve anything.
After spending some time in a homeless shelter in North Platte, Lance moved in with a friend and tried to find work.
But without a social security card or birth certificate, his efforts were useless.
Lance returned to Gothenburg, where acquaintances picked up his bed and microwave from his home. He sold the items to pay for a three-night stay in a Lexington motel.
There, he sought help from the Nebraska Health and Human Services Department and was put on a waiting list.
“I was freezing. I had no coat.”
At a community action center, Lance met a Hispanic woman who offered help—a place to spend the night and a ride to Omaha where employment opportunities might be better.
“She probably came from hardship too and couldn’t speak English,” he said. “But when you can understand people, it doesn’t matter what language you use when you need help. Somebody can understand.”
In Omaha, Lance lived at a homeless shelter for four months where he received two meals daily. He made some money, working at a Subway restaurant, where he was hired with help from people at the shelter.
At Christmas, folks at the shelter gave him a winter jacket and other clothes.
A month into a program at the shelter, he was caught with marijuana and was forced to leave.
Lance returned to North Platte and stayed a couple of weeks with friends before calling his mother.
“I told her I couldn’t handle it no more. I need identification. I need a high school diploma. I can’t live in homeless shelters anymore. I can’t do it on my own.”
His mother picked up her son and took him home. But with the protection order still in place, Lance was arrested when a police officer spotted the two in a car.
Another stint in jail lasted half a month.
In the fall of 2011, Lance enrolled in school for the third time.
Throughout the year, he said teachers and administrators helped him finish his senior year.
“I’m glad I had the opportunity to come back,” he said, noting that he wanted to finish in school, rather than having to earning a general equivalency diploma (GED).
This fall, Lance plans to attend Mid-Plains Community College in North Platte where he’ll take general studies and earn an associate degree in business.
He then wants to attend the Art Institute of Chicago and work toward a degree in game (electronic) development and visual production or music production and audio.
“I want to open my own studio and have people record music and audio there,” Lance said about a possible career inspired by people he met in Omaha and in North Platte. “They told me it takes a lot of inspiration and dedication to get ahead in life.”
Life in jail, and on the street, taught Lance not only responsibility but “what you’ve got to do to get to the places you want to go in life.”
High school graduation symbolizes the first of several of those places for Lance.
For others who have started down the road Lance once took, he said to think before acting.
“Don’t try to put yourself in a worse situation,” he said. “Always better yourself and don’t listen to people when they try to steer you the wrong way.”
Lance knows well the feeling of hopelessness and not knowing what to do.
That’s been the hardest.
“Trying to find a place to sleep and wondering what you’re going to do to get the next meal,” he said.