When College of Liberal Studies alum John Hammons was eight years old, his mother let him mark her ballot for the 1996 presidential election. That was all it took to spawn a dream. Just over a decade later at age 19, John was elected mayor of Muskogee, Okla., becoming one of the youngest mayors in American history.
At an age when many young adults are just learning to juggle work and school or a social life, John began searching for an educational program that could allow him to balance his new high-profile gig with his lifelong desire to graduate from the University of Oklahoma. The OU College of Liberal Studies online bachelor’s degree was the answer.
Politics, History & Heroes
Following his “participation” in the 1996 election, John started studying history and found most of his favorite historical figures were political leaders. So, in 2008 when the incumbent mayor of Muskogee announced her retirement, John jumped at the chance to step into a political role. With the encouragement of his family and mentors, he entered the race, and on May 13, 2008, won with the largest margin of votes in Muskogee’s election history.
Ecstatic at winning the election, John immediately shifted his priorities. A freshman at the University of Oklahoma when he was elected, he knew he couldn’t stay in Norman; John had an entire community counting on him to lead their city into the future.
“So many people had put their faith in me and believed in me, that I was determined to give my all for the betterment of the city of Muskogee as our city’s leader,” he said.
Finding the Time
As with most elected positions, a mayor’s work is never just 9 to 5. Though the Muskogee City Council only meets once a week, the mayor must attend to citizens’ needs on a somewhat personal basis with unexpected interruptions, like entertaining unplanned office visits or short-notice trips to local schools. This ever-changing schedule can make managing obligations a real challenge.
“My time as mayor taught me that the key to life truly is balance, I could not have been the leader I was without balancing the many different aspects of my life.”
In addition to encouraging him to follow his political aspirations, his parents also encouraged him and his younger brother to obtain a college degree and taught them that education was the most important step in achieving their dreams. He said he remembers them saying, “With education, anything is possible.”
In an effort to better manage his educational goals, John transferred his classes to a college closer to Muskogee but, as he said, he knew in his heart he would always be a Sooner. His mother told him about the College of Liberal Studies program offered through the OU-Tulsa campus and John, jumping at the opportunity to be a Sooner again, quickly enrolled in the Administrative Leadership degree program.
Through the convenience of the College of Liberal Studies’ online classes, he was able to achieve greater balance in his life. “With online courses, I was able to spend my days helping the citizens while spending my evenings investing in myself through education,” John said.
Though his greatest challenge was still finding a good work/life balance, even after learning more effective time management, he said the encouragement of family and friends was crucial to his educational accomplishments.
John graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Administrative Leadership a few weeks ago, and with his mayoral duties drawing to a close, he’s headed to law school this fall at OU. Though he is stepping away from politics for now and hopes to work in the private sector after law school, he said his greatest dream is to one day serve as the governor of the state of Oklahoma.
John said the College of Liberal Studies has taught him more than just what he learned in the books. “The CLS Administrative Leadership program has taught me self-discipline and self-motivation, important life lessons for anyone regardless of profession,” he said. John added, “Education is the key to everything. It is the only time-tested and proven way of guaranteeing a better, happier life. I am thankful for the College Of Liberal Studies in helping me achieve my educational goals.”
Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017.