Varina graduate addresses struggle with depression in commencement speech

Local News

HENRICO COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — A Varina high school graduate spoke candidly about his battles with mental health and the pressures of getting into college.

His speech inspired hundreds at the commencement and is now going viral online.

“This past year I’ve suffered from depression.”

Alton Coston, III, wanted to be a voice for the voiceless in his graduation speech. Opening up to his fellow classmates, he wanted to give a speech that was authentic and real.

“I just wanted it to relate to so many people,” Coston said. “Depression is something that a lot of teens, not even teens, but a lot of people, in general, go through.”

At Varina, he was a varsity football captain, vice president of the honor society and would go on to graduate with honors.

“I was depressed because my family simply could not afford for me to go to college,” Coston told his graduating class during commencement.

His depression turned into suicidal thoughts. He soon reached a breaking point and confided in his family.

“I cried in their arms…my mother and father and sister,” he recalled during his speech. “I told them how I felt and in this very moment we did something that I will never forget, we locked hands and my father said these distinct words ‘Lord, we give you this situation.’

Coston said he continued to work hard and keep his faith. Weeks later, the College of William & Mary sent him his acceptance letter.

“I went running through the house,” Coston said.

Even better, he learned his tuition would be paid in full. Through it all, Alton thanked his parents for giving him the strength to share his story.

“They’re superheroes,” he said. “It’s unexplainable what they do for my life.”

Alton’s mother, Laveta Wynn-Coston says she is thankful for her son’s faith, determination, and humility.

“Parenting is an extremely hard job,” Wynn -Coston said. “You never know if you’re doing it right or wrong, you just pray about it and do the best you can.”

For Alton and his family, he tells 8News he’s thankful for the next step. He wants to pursue a degree in public policy with a minor in economics.

“(I’m) just a kid from Richmond, with dreams and aspirations,” Coston said. “Getting accepted into the College of William and Mary, not only getting accepted but to get a full-tuition scholarship…it’s honestly a blessing.”

Alton Coston, III, Varina Graduation Speech

If this graduation speech by Alton Coston, III, doesn’t give you chills, nothing will. Guaranteed to be the best five minutes you'll hear today.As Varina Nation – Varina High School already knows, Alton brought the crowd to its feet more than once with his inspiring story about battling depression, and a school's collective triumph over self-doubt, trauma and other circumstances that many of us will never know.Alton, who attended the Varina High School Center for Communications and Media Relations, was a varsity football team captain and vice president of the Honor Society, among many other clubs, programs and awards. He graduated with a 3.78 GPA.Shared with the permission of Alton’s mother, Laveta, here is a condensed version of the speech:“This past year I suffered from severe depression. Depression to the point where I was thinking about killing myself. Depression to the point where I was losing a substantial amount of weight. Depression to the point where I couldn’t even get myself out of bed some mornings. I was depressed because my family simply could not afford for me to go to college. How sad is that?I was depressed because I’ve always been told that if you continue to work hard and you’re a good person, opportunities would arise, but I felt nothing more than stuck in a hole. There were so many nights when I cried myself to sleep. There were so many nights when I felt as if I had no one to turn to. There were so many nights where I sat in my room and contemplated how many people have crossed me left and right in my life.One evening I went to my parents. I cried in their arms … my mother, father and sister. I told them how I felt and in this very moment we did something I will never forget. We locked hands and my father said these distinct words: “Lord, we give this situation to you.”I continued to grind hard, continue to check things off my goals and continue to throw praise up. Then a couple of weeks later I got a letter in the mail from William & Mary. When I opened the letter, the letter said that I not only got accepted into the college, but they offered to pay for the full classes as well. You see, you see, you see my family was never the wealthiest. We were never born with a silver spoon in our mouth. We never had anything. We had to work for everything we got, but I guarantee you … faith. There are three things that money cannot buy: that’s faith, ambition, and determination, and my faith is the very reason I’m able to stand amongst you all today! I tell you all this story because it easily relates to a larger Varina story, man. At senior awards two weeks ago, we were notified that we’ve acclimated over $4.2 million in scholarships. Now, that’s a pretty hefty number, I like to think, but a lot of people truly don’t understand what we have to battle in order to get to that number.We’ve had to battle the severe battle of self-doubt and question whether we’re good enough. We’ve had to battle the continuous cycle of street violence and trauma. We’ve had to battle the unjustifiable cost of going to college. Come on man. We’ve had … come on, man. We’ve had to battle the circumstances of living in cracked and broken families. We’ve had to fight the battle and the circumstances of living in single-parent households. Come on, man. Y’all know what I’m talking about. Come on, now. We’ve had to fight the battle of burying a few loved ones six feet under along the way. We’ve had to fight the battle of cancer. We’ve had to fight the battle of the news and media portraying out Varina to be something it is not! We’ve had to fight the unfortunate battle of generational poverty. We may have cried about it a few times. We may have had to go see a therapist about it. We may have lost a few friends along the way. We may have even had to crack open the Bible and read a few scriptures, but I guarantee you that on this day, June 13, 2019, we have beat those battles because we will walk across this stage diploma in hand despite every obstacle, trial and tribulation that tried to hold us back from greatness!Class of 2019, we’re unstoppable. Continue to be the best version of yourselves. And for those who doubt us, you either hop on our success train or you get ran over, period. Continue to be the best version of yourselves. Positively impact people’s lives and when the sunshine and rainbows aren’t showing in your life, continue to hold on to that very stubborn thing that says despite everything that’s going on, I can, I will and I must win.Thank you, God bless you, and God bless this beautiful County of Henrico.AC3 out!”Alton Coston, IIIVarina High School Graduation 2019June 13, 2019

Posted by Henrico County Public Schools on Thursday, June 20, 2019

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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