Xolani Hadebe, 27, always dreamed of being a doctor, but the initial prognosis wasn't very positive - he received rejection letters from all the medical schools in the country and he did not have money for studies.
He and his siblings were raised by single mom Letta Elizabeth in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga, and he managed to obtain his matric at a rural school.
Despite his circumstances, Hadebe didn't take himself out of the race and ended up packing bags at the local Spar, so he could save and plot a way forward.
He was eventually accepted at Stellenbosch University and, this week, graduated with his proud mom and some of his siblings at his side.
"It was amazing and very emotional," he told News24 on Wednesday.
"I was overwhelmed, thinking about all the struggles we had to go through to get this degree."
Working at a supermarket to save money for university was hard because he had to pack groceries for his former classmates.
He would sometimes hide so they did not see or pity him for working there while they continued with their studies.
It was also tough receiving university rejection letters.
"I honestly believe it was my family who kept me going, such as my mother who sacrificed so much for us. My grandmother also used to call me doctor. Before she passed away, I made a promise I would be a doctor."
Hadebe recalled challenges, such as travelling to the Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in Pretoria to find out why his application was unsuccessful and why he didn't get feedback.
He arrived there late in the day, using public transport, and a campus security guard offered him a place to sleep for the night, which he gladly accepted.
Now that his studies at Stellenbosch are complete, Hadebe plans to do his community service internship at a hospital in Newcastle.
"It's quite scary, but I am very much happy that I am working closer to home and can learn more. I am looking forward to a new level of challenge."