University of Central Florida student Jesse Stokes is a knight in shining armor. He’s been wearing black and gold and throwing down the gauntlet to the opposition, enthusiastically encouraging his fellow Knights to ‘Charge On’ during athletic events for the past few years.

Stokes is part of team Knightro – UCF’s mascot. At the Feb. 26 basketball game the soon-to-be-graduate revealed his true identity to fans as part of senior night.

Being Knightro is just one of the many opportunities Stokes has taken advantage of while at UCF. For him, taking every opportunity is especially important because he is the first in his family to be on track to earn a college degree.

“My dad worked at a sawmill and my mom became a manager of a convenience store,” Stokes said. “My mom was my best friend growing up and she raised me to be something different. I could have easily fallen into the crowd of my peers, people who never thought of college and never really cared about school in general. My parents made sure I had everything they didn’t.”

Born to a teenage mother who graduated from high school and a father who did not, Stokes is proudly working his way toward a bachelor’s degree in hospitality management from the Rosen College of Hospitality Management with a sports business management minor. He expects to graduate in May.

A Florida native, Stokes has benefitted from a Bright Futures Scholarship, awarded to Florida high school graduates for high academic achievement, and an athletics scholarship when he became part of the Knightro mascot team. He also received a one-time scholarship his freshman year from, Idaho Timber, his father’s employer. Getting financial help was key to helping Stokes reach his goal.

First-generation college students often rely on financial assistance to pay for higher education. UCF President John C. Hitt is a first-generation college student who stresses the importance of scholarships and access to education. Stokes appreciates the support he received and credits his mother with championing his education.

“Growing up, my mom and dad worked hard. Both of my parents were poor and on assistance growing up, and college was never even a thought for them,” Stokes said. “My mom is my hero, and everything I am today is because of her. She guided me to be a standout student, a servant of my community, and a light in the world.”

Aside from entertaining UCF fans and studying, Stokes volunteers his time as marketing director for Knight-Thon, organizer of UCF’s Miracle Network Dance Marathon, the largest student-run philanthropy. The goal of the event is to educate, inspire and unite the UCF campus and community to provide ongoing support for Greater Orlando Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, such as Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

He also works part-time at the Student Union and full-time for Wycliffe Bible Translators. The Orlando company translates Bibles into other languages; Stokes helps plan events and handles the company’s social media as part of the marketing team.

Rick Florsheim, an instructor at Rosen College, taught Stokes in his hospitality and tourism marketing class.

“I remember him being an engaged student,” said Florsheim. “He was an active participant in class discussions and heavily involved in the group-marketing projects that were presented in class. He was very hands on.”

After graduation in May, Stokes hopes to land a job with a marketing company so he can promote the community he loves on a global level.

“I love Orlando, and I am dedicating everything I do to giving back to the community that has given me so much opportunity and growth,” he said.