Ozarks Life: The graduation of Richard Ryder

Like the transformation of Hillcrest High School, Richard’s life has been reconstructed.
Published: May. 13, 2022 at 8:25 AM CDT|Updated: May. 13, 2022 at 10:22 AM CDT
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SPRINGFIELD, Mo. (KY3) - Hundreds of seniors are saying goodbye to Hillcrest High School this week.

“It’s felt like a lifetime,” newly graduated Richard Ryder said.

Like the transformation of Hillcrest High School, Richard’s life has been reconstructed.

This past week, Richard walked the school hallways one last time. He wanted to thank the teachers who made an impact on his life. Like Richard’s J-ROTC sponsor, Sgt. Maj. Mike Brown, U.S. Army (retired). He says this teen has exhibited everything J-ROTC stands for.

“Seeking out and fighting for your goals,” Sgt. Maj. Brown said. “And resilience in times of stress.”

“I’ve just never thought about giving up,” Richard said. “Not once.”

You see, at one point, Richard had a choice. Continue moving forward or shut down.

“In 2015, my father passed,” Richard said. “That was like a big shift, like a whole new life for me.”

Richard shares his father’s name, a retired Navy Gulf Veteran who died on Memorial Day seven years ago. Not only did a son lose a father, but a family lost an identity.

“I was homeless for so long,” Richard said. “Sleeping in cars at some points.”

Some nights, he’d connect his school-issued Chromebook to a restaurant’s Wi-Fi from the parking lot just to do his homework.

“And going through struggles like that,” Richard admits, “most people give up, drop out of high school. But I feel like there’s something special about me.”

While going to high school full-time, Richard has been working full-time. His job at a fast-food restaurant will help him realize his long-term goal. To be an English teacher is another huge influence in his life, Hillcrest’s Tim Kirk.

“You could tell he was struggling,” Kirk said. “He didn’t complain about it. Some students talk a lot about themselves. He didn’t say anything about it could just tell there were some things going on behind the scenes. But he pushed through.”

“I want to be able to pass all the graciousness that has happened to me,” Richard said, “all the people who have pulled me back up whenever I felt like falling, and just everybody who’s helped me; I want to do the same thing. For those kids in the future who have been through the same thing, I have been through or been through worse.”

Thanks to the A-Plus program, Richard is heading to Ozarks Technical Community College for free for his first two years of college. After that, his paychecks are saved to get him through another graduation. College.

“Nothing, in my opinion, will be as hard in my future as what I’ve already been through,” Richard said. “Being able to know that there are lowers than where you are right now. And if you’ve experienced those, and you’ve struggled through those, or if you’re struggling through them now, just have that hope that you can come right back out.”

“Don’t ever lose hope,” Richard wants others to know. “When you lose hope, you lose everything else.”

Recently, someone learned of Richard’s story and anonymously donated their tax refund check to him. He wants to say “thank you” to them and let them know the gift is now in his college savings.

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