Josh Newman giving commencement speech on stage at graduation

From Prison Inmate to Nicolet College Graduate, Josh Newman Grateful for Opportunities to Turn His Life Around 


Second chances don’t always come around in life. For Josh Newman, when one did, he made sure to take full and complete advantage of it. 

“Ever since I was a kid I was getting into trouble and was in out of the system,” said Newman, who recently graduated from Nicolet College and was even selected to deliver the Student Commencement Address. 

A far cry from his youth when things continued to escalate the older he got. In February 2011, Newman was expelled from Rhinelander High School. “Drugs and fighting mostly,” he described as reasons.  

From there, it was on to the Wisconsin National Guard Challenge Academy to try to get his life back on track. 

It worked for a while, but it didn’t take long before he fell back into his previous ill-found ways. “Unfortunately, I just kind of went back into the same stuff I was doing before and that just sent me down into down into a deeper and darker hole," Newman said. 

Rock bottom came in early 2020 when he was arrested and found guilty of felony possession of methamphetamine with intent to deliver. His sentence: two years in the Wisconsin Prison System. 

He had no clue at the time – as life often works in mysterious ways – but it would be his time behind bars that something clicked. A light turned on. 

He started hanging around the prison barbershop more and more. It was one place he could find a degree of comfort, a degree of peace, in an otherwise difficult and challenging environment. 

“I fell in love with the barbershop, and I just fell in love with the trade itself," he said. "I knew that it was something that I can be a part of, something I could pursue as a trade.” 

It didn’t take him long after he left the prison walls behind, returned to Rhinelander, and enrolled in the Cosmetology program at Nicolet. 

“Since the very first day, it has nothing but blessed me in so many ways,” he said. “Everybody at Nicolet, they are awesome, so involved with just not my academics but also my personal life because I’ve shared it with them and every time I asked for help, they were there for me,” he said. 

Perhaps one of the most ironic days of his life came on April 22, the day Nicolet held its 2023 Commencement Ceremony. 

“One year ago today, to this day, I got released from prison,” Newman said from the stage while addressing the several hundred people assembled in the Hodag Dome. 

“Nicolet College has given me a chance to actually prove something, to give back to my own community through my education, and for that I am incredibly grateful.” 

He also expressed his gratitude to the Nicolet College Foundation for the assistance he received during his time at Nicolet. 

“For that help, I will be forever grateful,” he said. “Without it, I’m not sure I would have been able to make it to graduation.” 

And his future continues to look bright as Newman works to build on his accomplishments. 

Recently, he took home a gold medal at a state-wide USASkills competition in Madison in the Barbering category, earning him the opportunity to compete and test his skills against others from across the country at the national USASkills competition later this year in Atlanta, Ga. 

Newman also actively tells his life story to really anyone who will listen to hopefully inspire them to work hard to achieve their goals. One way he is doing this is by reaching out on social media, where he already has a sizeable following that just keeps growing. 

On TikTok, he already has 46,000 followers and another 12,000 on Facebook. 

“One of my main messages to people is ‘It’s ok not to be ok,’” he said. “There are all kinds of people out there eager to help. All you have to do is ask.” 

Marie Stott, one of Newman’s Cosmetology instructors at Nicolet, said it has been nothing but a gift to watch him grow and develop into such an upstanding individual during his time at Nicolet. 

"He is amazing every day. He comes out with a new goal he wants to achieve, and he knocks it out of the park every time. The world is at his fingertips and his future is very bright. As an instructor, I could not be more proud,” Stott said, doing her best to hold back the tears.