Coming out of the dark: Student finds purpose, empowerment at Georgia Gwinnett College
It is estimated that one in four women in the U.S. is a victim of domestic abuse. It’s not a statistic anyone chooses to be a part of. Yesmeen Jaser of Lawrenceville never imagined she’d be included in those numbers. Like so many abuse victims, she thought she was living her dream until it abruptly turned into a nightmare.
“I was so in love and was lost in la-la-land,” she explained. “This man completely swept me off my feet. So much so that I didn’t even pay attention to my schoolwork or even my family. When I got married, this perfect picture was turned upside down. It quickly turned into a very dark, depressing and sad place. A place I wish no human would pass upon.”
Jaser’s husband and his family emotionally, physically and mentally abused her. She lived in misery until, on their one-year anniversary, she summoned her last ounce of courage and fled.
Jaser moved home to stay with her family, but the trauma of what she’d endured haunted her.
“I laid in bed, ate Ben and Jerry’s ice cream for days and didn’t even see the sun,” she said.
One day her mother, Asmahan, marched into Jaser’s room and ripped the sheets off her.
“Yesmeen, what are you doing? I did not raise you to cry about your problems. I raised you to use them to grow.”
Jaser had overcome huge challenges before. When she was in middle school, the family moved from their Lawrenceville home to Palestine and lived there for six years, returning to the U.S. when she was a junior. She applied to attend Archer High School, but the administration wanted to place her back to freshman year.
“Of course, I didn't want to repeat three years of high school, so I dropped out and took my GED within two to three months. I graduated at the age of 16.”
Asmahan roused Jaser out of bed, then took her daughter’s hand and brought her to Georgia Gwinnett College. It was the fall of 2017, and registration was over, but the GGC staff encouraged Jaser to submit a late application. She was accepted less than two weeks later. It was her first step out of the darkness.
“I chose GGC because it was the closest to my house. I was not a picky person at that time,” said Jaser. “I never knew I would fall in love with the place.”
Jaser vividly remembers the thrill of starting college. It was like seeing daylight and a whole world of possibilities for the first time. Her future was bright again, but she struggled at first. The year of abuse left her with post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). Depression kept reaching its insidious tentacles into her heart. She began being late for classes and not doing her homework, causing her grades to slide.
An observant professor, Dr. Joseph Ametepe, associate dean of the School of Science and Technology, noticed Jaser was struggling and asked her to stay after class one day.
“All he asked was, ‘Why were you late, are you ok?’ And I completely had the most outrageous emotional breakdown in my history,” said Jaser.
Ametepe encouraged Jaser to utilize GGC’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS). It was exactly what she needed. After a few sessions, her grades went right back up to A’s and B’s. Soon she was on the dean’s list and president’s list.
“My life changed from that point on, and I did nothing but succeed,” said Jaser, who likes to share a quote that Ametepe gave her:
“There is nothing more powerful than a woman’s determination for success.”
Jaser lives by those words and is determined to spread that message to others. As a biology major, she has logged more than 1,500 volunteer hours at a Duluth nonprofit clinic, often managing more than 75 other volunteers to bring healing to others.
She has come to terms with the awful abuse she suffered, taking her mother’s advice and growing from it. As the saying goes, the adversity has only made her stronger. That strength helped her sail through her GGC coursework and become a biochemistry graduate.
“There have been people in my life who told me I couldn't do it because I was a woman,” she said. “But I did. I challenged myself, and I did it!”
After graduation, Jaser plans to continue her education and become a cardiothoracic surgeon.
Jaser, who was selected as commencement student speaker, joins more than 750 students who will graduate at GGC’s hybrid spring commencement, scheduled for May 12 and 13. The celebration kicks off online at 7 p.m. on May 12 with keynote addresses by GGC’s president, commencement student speaker and Alumni Board chair. The celebration continues in person May 13 at the Infinite Energy Center, Duluth, with ceremonies at 8:30 a.m., 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
In-person ceremonies will be live streamed at www.ggc.edu/commencement.