Student returns to a different UT after decades of troubled life

Denise Emerson

For years, studio art senior David Carter panhandled on Guadalupe Street across from the university he dropped out of in the 1970s. 

After Carter’s story gained traction due to student reporting, an anonymous alumnus pledged to pay Carter’s tuition to complete his degree, allowing him to return to UT for a summer session this year.

“I want to devote what’s left of my life to study and research, and I want to spend 10 hours a day doing it,” Carter said. “That’s exactly what I’m going to have to do if I’m going to be able to take advantage of this opportunity.”


Although Carter is reenrolling as a studio art senior, he wants to change his major to art history. Carter said it will take him around two more years to finish his degree, as well as earn a teaching certificate. 

“That’s not a lot to (some), but two years is a life sentence for me,” Carter said. “I’m coming into contact with great minds. I accept the fact that I’m not the smartest person in the world, but I have patience and persistence.”

In the four decades since he left the University, Carter has extensively read the works of Mark Twain and other authors who have inspired his interest in literature and write a memoir. 

Carter credits communication and leadership junior Frances Mark as the first to take an interest in sharing his story. After learning about his past, Mark took photographs of Carter for a class assignment. Those were later used in the first media features of Carter.

“Every time I would walk by him I would say, ‘I’m sorry I don’t have anything right now,’” Mark said. “And he would say, ‘That’s OK. Have a beautiful day,’ in the most genuine and grateful way.”

Since returning to the University, Carter has faced financial struggles and is applying for financial aid. The costs of textbooks, food and transportation are not covered by the anonymous donor who is paying for his tuition.

“I’ve got the tuition but have nothing to live on,” Carter said. “I’ve got $10 to last the rest of the month. I’m supposed to buy all these textbooks.”

Although Carter said there is no shortage of computers that are available to him to complete his classwork, they have advanced to the point that he struggles to use them. Tasks such as exiting out of a browser window are difficult for him. Signe Fourmy, Carter’s U.S. History instructor, has noted Carter’s struggles of vision and hearing in addition to his issues with technology. 

“We’re using an online textbook,” Fourmy said. “I chose it because it’s a free online textbook, thinking that most students would have access to the Internet, not anticipating this type of situation."

Fourmy bought Carter a binder, and her students pooled money to buy Carter a backpack — an upgrade from his plastic bag from Chick-fil-A.

Elizabeth Donihoo, assistant to the Vice Provost for Diversity at the University, recently helped Carter with tasks such as printing out papers, using computers at the PCL and setting up appointments with services at UT.

“Intellectual pursuits are important to him,” Donihoo said. “He’s not doing this half-heartedly. He feels inspired. I’m just thrilled for him.”

Carter also struggles with short-term memory loss. Memorization and retaining what he’s learned is difficult for him, which could inhibit his success as a mature student, Carter said.

“At the same time with this opportunity, I’m having difficulty confronting reality,” Carter said. “It’s difficult to see yourself as other people see you. I keep thinking I’m a youngster, and I’m not.”

To make the most of his time at UT, Carter is pushing to convert from full-time in the street to a full-time student and hopefully, a graduate.

“If I’m alive, when I achieve (my degree), I’ll be 70 years old,” Carter said. “There are people my age that are in nursing homes. I think I’m doing better than some — pretty spry for my age.”