GGC graduate uses education to overcome homelessness
Sarah Jackson spoke on behalf of all graduates at today’s spring commencement ceremony at Georgia Gwinnett College. She spoke of dreams, obstacles, perseverance and the importance of the support of faculty, family and friends while pursuing a college education – all universal messages for her fellow students.
However, the details of Jackson’s personal challenges were anything but universal. During the time she has attended GGC, she and her four young daughters have been homeless.
A native of Springfield, Ill., Jackson was only three years old when her mother died. She was raised by her maternal grandmother. Even though she only had three years of schooling, Jackson’s grandmother knew the value of an education and encouraged the young girl to finish high school and college.
Jackson listened to her grandmother, and worked to excel in school. While her grandmother wanted her to be a teacher, Jackson dreamed of being a doctor or a lawyer. She graduated from Lanphier High School, ranked as one of its “top 10” students in academics and a member of the National Honor Society. She began attending Washington University in St. Louis, but due to the combined pressures of work, finances, marriage and family, she was not able to complete her degree.
“One of my daughters was extremely sick at the time,” she said. “She was in and out of the hospital for three years and required 24-hour care.”
Later and then living in Georgia, Jackson’s life took some drastic turns. She found herself a single mom. Then she lost her full-time job when her employer of several years closed its doors due to the troubled economy. She eventually lost her car and her home. She and her four daughters, now ages two, four, five and 13, ended up in a homeless shelter program that required them to move every week. Eventually, they moved into transitional housing.
Determined to provide a better future for her young family, Jackson enrolled at GGC to complete her college education with a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a concentration in accounting.
“School was one of the main driving forces for me during this difficult and humbling experience because I knew completing my education would open the door to a career that would ultimately create financial stability and change the quality of life for my family,” she said. “I had to complete my degree. My family’s future was dependent upon it.”
Jackson said she knew from the onset that she had made “the right choice” in Georgia Gwinnett, as she found the faculty and staff to be extremely supportive and attentive.
Jackson continued to face challenges as she pursued her degree. Her childcare expenses alone totaled almost $1,200 per month. She often worked one, sometimes two, part-time jobs to support her family and her educational expenses. Still, when classes began in the fall of 2012, Jackson had no means of paying for school.
She applied for and won the Eldridge McMillan Scholarship, funded by former University System of Georgia Regent Eldridge McMillan. She was the scholarship’s first recipient, and the support could not have come at a better time. Not only did the scholarship make the completion of her degree possible, it gave her the encouragement to work even harder in her coursework. She made the Dean’s List, and through the School of Business’ internship course, she obtained an internship that resulted in an offer for full-time employment upon graduation.
“Scholarships provide the assistance that make a quality education possible for dedicated, driven students such as me,” Jackson said when she addressed attendees of a recent reception for the college’s scholarship donors. “I am extremely grateful for your benevolence and your contributions to the lives of college students. Your generous support reminds me of the encouragement my grandmother instilled in me so many years ago - that education and my success in college matters.”
Jackson, now 38, looks forward to building a new life for herself and her children. However, her road is still not a smooth one, as sequestration has created budgetary issues that have delayed her hire date several months. However, she is undaunted … because now, she has the degree needed to change everything.
In fact, Jackson plans to become a CPA and eventually practice tax law.
“I have climbed my mountain, but I could not have done it alone,” Jackson said at today’s commencement ceremony. “So many people have made a difference in my life during this journey and I am often reminded that though we are all individuals, we are connected as local communities and as a world. We all can make an impact.”