EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Benard McKinley missed the tradition of walking under the Northwestern University arch when he started school and again when he got his degree, because he was in prison.
"For so long I've desired or pictured this moment to actually be able to witness it and feel is definitely breathtaking," he said. "It's been a long time. I just feel grateful."
In November, McKinley was among 16 graduates of the inaugural class of Northwestern's Prison Education Program.
"I'm incredibly proud of Bernard, I mean he was remarkable from the very beginning," said program director Jennifer Lackey. "Recidivism rates drop dramatically when people receive a post-secondary education while they are incarcerated and the evidence shows the higher the degree, the lower the recidivism rate is."
McKinley was 16 years old when he was sentenced to 100 years in prison for murder. He's since had his sentence reduced. In addition to getting a bachelor's degree, he has taken his LSATs and applied to Northwestern's Law School. He wants to not only become a civil rights attorney, but also work with a non-profit legal clinic to help others seek justice.
"I'm not wavering from that; that's my purpose, my passion, and I know that's where my power lay to help effect positive change for others," he said.
He anticipates being released from his transitional housing in the spring. Until then, he will work as a paralegal at the law school and await the response from them about his application.