How to get a master’s degree with a mop

Jesse Sparks, of Cambridge, Mass., could have done what a lot of college football players might do when the football program at their school was dropped: go somewhere else.

But Sparks stayed at Northeastern University, which agreed to honor his scholarship even without a football program. He wanted an education.

He graduated with a degree in criminal justice, took the civil service exams, and couldn’t find a job in the business. He took a job at his old high school as a janitor, the Boston Globe says.

“I was at the top of the high school food chain,” Sparks said, “and now I was back cleaning toilets.”

A high school guidance counselor said it was embarrassing for him, but he saw how he was with the kids and thought he might be a role model that could teach kids the perils of thinking sports is their future.

He enrolled at Lesley University in Cambridge, pursuing a master’s degree, and he intended to pay his own way. No student debt, the Globe says.

So he kept the custodial job, lived with his mother and portioned out his paychecks toward an installment plan at Lesley — sometimes nearly three quarters of his monthly earnings. He spent mornings as a counseling intern at Rindge and Latin, and afternoons and evenings cleaning the high school, eating up vacation time to leave his shift early for night classes. He put another $500 a year — a full week’s pay — toward an annual scholarship for the Rindge and Latin senior who wrote the best essay about overcoming adversity.

By his third year at Lesley, he was either at school, work or his internship from 8 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. daily, darting out to class and coming back to finish cleaning late into the night.

Good thing he’s fast.

“I’ve never been so exhausted,” he said. But by then, the embarrassment was gone. Instead, he’d become an object lesson in hard work. Students “saw me as Mr. Sparks the guidance counselor intern dressed in Brooks Brothers during the day, and then Mr. Sparks the custodian after school dressed in dirty blue Dickies,” he said.

“I told them, ‘Sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do to get to where you want.’”

He graduated this summer with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling.

He’s an intern now at the school.