Derrick Giddings learned when he was named first chair cello in the Dallas Youth Symphony that he should never put limits on himself.
“I was walking through the hood in South Oak Cliff with a cello,” Giddings recalled with a laugh. “I wound up on stage with other kids who looked nothing like me. That kind of set the tone for my life.”
The latest chapter of Giddings’ life story came on another stage on May 8. Giddings, with the help of a caring sister and support system he discovered at Victoria College, accomplished a task that he would have deemed impossible just 2½ years ago as he walked the stage at VC’s Emerging Technology Complex to receive his Process Technology Certificate.
“People need to take advantage of what Victoria College offers,” Giddings said. “There is so much support and help for you to succeed. You almost have to try to fail. I will always be thankful for the help I received at VC.”
Giddings never played the cello again after his mother passed away from cancer while he was a freshman in high school.
“She was my driving force,” Giddings said. “She always told me, ‘Derrick, you can do it.’ So I was angry a lot after she passed. That’s when I was adopted by the streets.”
Giddings became homeless and was soon involved in gang activity.
“I was always picked on as a kid, but I found acceptance in the gangs, so I liked it,” Giddings said. “Finally, people liked me. But I never wanted to be part of a gang. I was forced into that life because I needed a place to stay.”
At age 16, Giddings realized he needed to get out of South Oak Cliff. He went to live with a cousin in Dallas and later graduated from Dallas Lincoln High School.
Giddings landed a lucrative customer service position with AT&T, but substance abuse and run-ins with law enforcement sent his life on a downward spiral.
“I was living the rock star life,” Giddings said. “But I had no guidance. I didn’t know what to do with all that money. I thought I was flying, but I was actually falling. I lost my job, and I couldn’t find work. I couldn’t stay out of jail. I was out of control.”
Then came a phone call from his sister, Paula Antwine, who had recently moved to Victoria.
“She had heard that I was living in a drug house,” Giddings said. “She said, ‘I’m coming to get you.’ ”
Giddings, who was 39 at the time, recalls a stern lecture he received from his sister.
“Paula said I was at this point in my life because I had a mindset that needed to be broken,” Giddings said. “She said I needed to be institutionalized, either in jail or prison for the rest of my life, or I could go to college.”
Giddings chose the final option. He and Paula soon enrolled at Victoria College.
“I had to go back to Dallas to get my transcripts, and I was so tempted to stay,” Giddings said. “It wasn’t easy, but I came back and got in school.”
Giddings soon discovered resources at VC to help him adjust to suddenly becoming a college student.
“I remember asking myself, ‘Why are all these people at VC interested in my success?’ I had all this assistance around me,” said Giddings, who utilized VC’s KEY Center and Total Learning Center. “For the first time in my life, I felt I was part of something bigger.”
Giddings, who was inducted into Victoria College’s chapter of Phi Theta Kappa and was president of the TRIO Club, transferred to Texas A&M University-Kingsville for one semester before returning to Victoria College and entering VC’s Process Technology Program.
“I had nine classes left to finish my associate degree,” Giddings said. “I had no idea what a process technician was. When I started the program, I started catching on.”
Giddings caught on so much that he was selected by instructor Lawrence Wick to be a part of the four-member team that would represent Victoria College in the North American Process Technology Alliance’s 2021 Troubleshooting Skills Competition. Giddings, Dave Garcia, Kyle Cooley and Rolando Garza wound up giving VC its first national troubleshooting title.
Giddings plans to move to pursue an engineering degree at Georgia Tech.
“I felt like I was going to have to climb a mountain when I started at VC, but when I got there I found out there’s an elevator,” Giddings said. “I was happy to finish this phase in life, and now the journey continues.”