A Childhood Dream Come True
|Katherine Thompson Jackson was unable
to attend U.Va. in 1969, when she graduated from high
get a job there. Thirty-five years later, Jackson — on
the staff at University Relations — fulfilled her youthful
By Katherine Thompson Jackson, SCPS ’04
My childhood dream was to attend the University of Virginia
after high school. But in 1969, that was not a reality
for this poor, black girl from Albemarle
County. Now, however, it is a different story, and earlier this month, I was
among roughly 5,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students who received
degrees from the University.
The prospect of earning a U.Va degree began for me in the
early 1990s. Sondra Stallard, not yet dean of the School
of Continuing and Professional Studies,
predicted that the University would soon offer an adult-degree
program. In the fall of 1999, Stallard announced that the State Council of
Higher Education for Virginia had
approved the creation of such a program.
The resulting Bachelor of Interdisciplinary Studies Program at U.Va. opened
the door for me and other adult students seeking a four-year degree and
of walking down the Lawn in confirmation of completing
enrolled in U.Va.’s 2000 summer session to complete the 12 credits of
science and math requirements, prior to entering the BIS program. I decided to
confront my fear of numbers by enrolling in the College of Arts & Sciences’ three-credit “Introduction
to Statistics” course. After the first day of class, two things were clear:
I was totally lost, and I didn’t know how to ask some of the brightest
young people in the country for help. I needed more time to prepare for this
new venture. I requested time off, and my supervisor, Carol Wood, allowed me
to take leave from work. The good news was that for 12 weeks I could devote about
eight hours a day to studying statistics; the bad news was that this course wasn’t
going to help me overcome my aversion to working with numbers — it
would reinforce it.
My coursework included classes from the College
of Arts & Sciences,
as well as from the BIS program. I knew early on, my academic transcript
different than students much younger than I.
As I planned my progression through the program, I faced
time constraints that included balancing the rest of
my life as an adult with family
responsibilities, and my full-time work in University Relations.
As an adult student I was challenged by concerns that were different
from traditional students in the College. Because I lived about
25 miles from
for example, I was unable to make early Sunday and late-night group
There was another concern: I was attending one of the finest
institutions in the country, and that fact was daunting.
Luckily, as a mother
I had honed skills
that enabled me to succeed as a student. Discipline, perseverance
and prayer had helped get me through the years of raising four
and I returned to those strengths. By spring of 2001, my math
had been completed, and I mapped out a three-year graduation
About halfway through the program, I began to think about
the Capstone Project, a thesis-like paper that all BIS
to write. The BIS
program describes it as the culminating academic activity of
the program, which provides
students with an opportunity to integrate academic accomplishments
and professional interests.
Even though I felt my classes had prepared me to go forward,
I approached the capstone experience with apprehension. (One
the experience as “haunting me like a wolf howling in the dark.”) According to BIS
guidelines, I should expect to be “fully engaged in the work.” But
how many pages define fully engaged? After many revisions and valuable
assistance from my mentor, assistant professor of religious studies Cory
my paper was completed, signaling the end of my undergraduate experience.
I am often asked what inspired me to return to school after
finishing my associate’s
degree at Piedmont Virginia Community College a decade ago. PVCC was the beginning
of a journey instilled in me by my mother years ago. Because I was the only girl
among four boys, I was expected to do well in every aspect of my life. My mother — a
domestic worker without a high school education — embraced education.
Often at the end of the day, I would find her curled up in her bed reading
She died when I was 12 years old, but I promised myself that I would
fulfill her wishes to become educated.
I am the first in my family to complete a bachelor’s degree, and
I hope this will inspire my two daughters and two sons. I hope that I
in them and their children what my mother wanted for me: a good education.
Following graduation I took a week off to rest at the beach
with my husband and children. (I didn’t tell them I would be bringing a supply
of books that I have been waiting a couple of years to read.)
I returned to my position in University