HIGH POINT, N.C. -- Like a lot of high school seniors this time of year, High Point Central's Thomas Gooding and Jerome Mack get a kick out of looking at their old yearbooks.
The two became friends their freshman year, but Jerome didn't stick around long enough to get his picture taken.
“I think I got real big headed. Couldn't get used to the environment... Problems came from everywhere at home... Mom...” Jerome said. “Everything just piled up on me so I dropped out I think like a couple of weeks into my 9th grade year.”
It was a decision Thomas didn't quite understand.
“I knew the incredible person that Jerome was and the potential that he had... So it was difficult to hear that he wouldn't be coming back,” Thomas said.
Jerome said that, during that time, he was “just going the wrong way. I mean completely going the wrong way.”
“I was doing some bad things... And one of my friends got killed at one point. That kind of gave me a heads up... like WHOA!” Jerome said.
So he headed back to the familiar hallways of High Point Central, where his friend was waiting.
“Jerome is a great friend,” Thomas said. “We always joke, as Jerome said, that we're brothers.”
The two brothers from different worlds teamed up with their counselors and the principal in order to get Jerome back on track.
“He would wake up in the morning early and walk miles to school... And sit through class all day and take classes after school and leave late -- just to get an education,” Thomas said.
It was discipline he learned through ROTC.
“ROTC made me more of a man than anything in the entire world,” Jerome said.
“It’s exhilarating. And just learning the value of what character means and how to build it and just how to be a good honest person... It blew me away,” he said.
As Jerome rebuilt his life, Thomas found his changing as his mother battled cancer. But he knew they would be OK.
“Jerome has shown me that courage and self-motivation can really get you through some challenges,” Thomas said.
Now Jerome is showing that to others too by sharing his story with potential dropouts in hopes of getting them to stay in school.
“I'm doing this for a purpose, so it’s more than just for myself,” Jerome said. “It’s actually helping others.”
After graduation, Jerome will continue his service to others. He’s joined the Marines and will head to basic training this summer.
Thomas will be attending UNC Chapel Hill this fall as a Morehead-Cain scholar.
Both said they’ll always keep in touch, as they’re “brothers for life.”