After spending his senior year taking classes online due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Tommy Collins Jr. became the first of his family to receive a college degree when he graduated from Florida State University (FSU) in May 2020. Just five years earlier, the then high school sophomore from Overtown Miami had to walk a few miles to a downtown library every day to do his homework because his family could not afford a home broadband connection.

In 2015, Tommy’s mother Lisa signed the family up for Internet Essentials after the Comcast team began outreach in Rainbow Village, offering free laptops and six months of complimentary high-speed Internet to residents. “I had just come home from school, and my mom was telling me about this Internet Essentials program that she was going to sign us up for,” Tommy recalls. “I remember opening up the computer, seeing the Internet, the three bars coming up, and just thinking, ‘This is insane. I can do my work from home now!’"

Having a home broadband connection allowed Tommy and his siblings to not only be able to do their homework online, but it also provided Tommy with the resources he needed to apply for college, eventually settling on FSU where he majored in psychology, with a minor in statistics. At school, he immediately signed up for Internet Essentials at his off-campus residence and spread the word to his roommates who also applied for the service.

I don't think that I would have found my niche, in terms of what I want to do, if I had not gotten that opportunity to have Internet Essentials.

“The Internet has made all the difference. It’s played a role in my life in terms of quenching that fire of curiosity that I've always had. I’ve always been a seeker of knowledge and so I've always loved school. Being able to have the Internet, and being able to look into the different avenues I can choose in terms of my majors and the careers that are out there, it made me aware of how much is truly out there. And I don't think that I would have found my niche, in terms of what I want to do, if I had not gotten that opportunity to have Internet Essentials.”

This fall, the 21-year-old heads back to FSU to embark on a doctoral program in counseling psychology and school psychology. Having gained experience through internships and volunteer work at community centers that serve young people in Tallahassee, FL, Tommy’s goal is to work with children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and other conduct disorder challenges in a holistic way that includes students’ parents, and school faculty and staff.

Tommy credits having Internet access with helping him get where he is today. An added benefit is that his achievements are showing others what they can accomplish, too.

“My cousin was going to school, but she didn't finish, and so when she saw me graduating, she started talking about how now she wanted to go back and finish,” Tommy says. “And then my sister was talking about how now she wants to finish, because she can't let her little brother outdo her. So, I've been inspiring a few people to go back and go and get their undergraduate degrees, and hopefully go beyond that.”