When many CLS students walk across the stage at convocation, it’s a moment that most of them have rehearsed in their minds for years. Not to downplay the sense of accomplishment that “traditional” students feel at graduation, but many graduates of the College of Liberal Studies greet convocation day with an extra bounce in their step. The road that has led to this occasion is often long, bumpy and riddled with u-turns, wrong-ways and detours. But on convocation day, those old roadblocks are just a fading dot in life’s rearview mirror.
April Jackson, one of our most recent grads, had her own winding journey to the convocation stage, earning her Bachelor of Arts in Administrative Leadership in May 2011. The 39-year-old mother of three now has much to celebrate after years of hard work.
“When I was a senior at Newcastle High School, I became pregnant and married several months prior to graduating in 1990. I moved to Las Vegas, where my husband was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base. We lived in Las Vegas for several years and then moved back to Oklahoma in 1992 where I had my second daughter,” April said.
“My five years of marriage ended in divorce in 1994. As a single mom, I spent many years trying to make enough money to pay the bills and put food on the table for my girls by working minimum wage jobs. I didn’t have much time to put myself first or even consider going back to school.”
A Second Chance
In 1997, April married her second husband, Christopher. Together, they took classes at Oklahoma City Community College (OCCC).
“We were each other’s best friend and support system. I don’t believe either one of us would have finished if it wasn’t for the other one keeping the motivation up!” she said.
In 2001, April graduated from OCCC with an Associate in Applied Science in Graphic Communications. Soon after, she started working part-time for OCCC while attending classes at OU.
“My first motivation to get a bachelor’s degree was the love I have for my Oklahoma Sooners! I’ve always been a big fan of Sooner sports since I was a little girl,” April gushed. “My dad and I would watch OU football and basketball. One of my dreams was to graduate from the University of Oklahoma with a degree in something … didn’t matter, just as long as it was at OU.”
In addition to her Sooner pride, April wanted to live out the ol’ “success is the greatest revenge” mantra.
“Another one of my motivations was my ex-husband’s actions after our divorce. When he told me I would never amount to anything, it really gave me the drive to prove him wrong,” April shared with a smirk.
April said the OU College of Liberal Studies was the perfect option for her.
“Christopher was disabled due to asthma, and it was difficult to find time to work full-time, go to class and take care of three children, so I began researching my options. I found that CLS’ 100 percent online program fit into my schedule, so I decided to go for it,” she said.
April was on schedule with her courses when the unthinkable happened. “I was in the middle of a semester when Christopher suddenly died on Mother’s Day in 2008. He had a severe asthma attack at home, and paramedics were not able to revive him.”
The Road Continues
April took a year off from school to refocus. At a time when many would have given up, April held it together and kept going. Juggling work, home and school was certainly a challenge.
“To be an online student, you have to be very disciplined and learn not to get off track. I want to cry every time I think of how many research papers I wrote during my time at OU. But, it’s a good cry!” she said. “I’ve never been a top English student. I struggled with comprehension, sentence structure and writing in general.”
This program has helped me become a better writer and critical thinker.
Today, April proudly boasts that she’s worked at OCCC – which she warmly refers to as her “second home” – for more than 11 years. Her current job title is Publications Coordinator/Graphic Projects Manager for Marketing and Public Relations.
“My job is to manage and oversee the design of OCCC printed publications and advertising. I also teach part time for the OCCC Graphic Communications program. I’ve been an adjunct instructor for over seven years, and I love teaching students how to use Adobe InDesign software. Just seeing some of what my students are capable of creating is very exciting to me.”
April said her CLS experience helped her become a better leader for her team at work and her students.
“This was definitely one of the most challenging obstacles I’ve been through in my life, but I’m thrilled to have accomplished one of my life goals.”
Update: The College of Liberal Studies was renamed the College of Professional and Continuing Studies in 2017.