It's an accomplishment he almost didn't live long enough to earn.
Jay Johnston graduated from Lewis and Clark Law School in Portland on Saturday after a long, difficult journey. Johnston survived a suicide attempt with a shotgun weeks before his high school graduation in 1997.
"When someone is suffering that bad [from depression], their perspective is so altered," said Johnston about his suicide attempt. "I didn't think that anyone cared about me."
Johnston's actions left him disfigured and legally blind. He said the recovery was painful both physically and emotionally. He had to learn to walk and talk all over again, but went on to receive an undergraduate degree from Portland State University and now a law degree from Lewis and Clark – all while being an advocate for suicide prevention.
"I really thought a law degree would give me more tools to help create change and help people who wouldn't otherwise get help," Johnston said.
"I'm the proudest mother in the world today," said Debra Sheldon, Johnston's mother, who attended the ceremony.
Johnston credits the support of his mother, stepfather and schools for his success.
"He's always been very low key; he doesn't get excited about things," said Sheldon. "That's probably why he's survived; He doesn't have great highs and lows - he just keeps plugging away."
Despite the challenges Johnston faces as a result of trying to take his own life, Johnston said he's happier now than before the attempt because his depression is treated.
"It's super important that people know depression is a deadly disease and also that's it's very treatable. No one has to suffer," Johnston said.
Johnston said his treatment for depression includes counseling and medication.
Copyright KPTV-KPDX Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.