Last week I dropped my daughter off at the bus stop. She headed back to the University of North Texas for her final semester of college. If she has her way, this will be her last semester of formal education. EVER. None of us are mad about that. Her schooling has been a long, difficult journey for us all.
I have written about my daughters educational journey before but today it means so much more to me. When I entered my daughters life full-time she was 11 and entering the sixth grade. Over the last 13 years she has blossomed into an outgoing, charming, courageous young woman. This was not always the case.
When I first met my daughter her voice was so soft you could barely hear her when she spoke. Academically, she was behind her age peers and her teacher was concerned. Very early on I was worried that folks might miss all the potential in this amazing kiddo. The Mel in me (that’s my mom) took over and the Jackson’s got to work. We did workbooks, met with teachers, switched schools, paid for private tutors, went to tutoring centers, did extra assignments, and had cry fests. A LOT of them.
Nine years and thousands of dollars later we started getting answers. When we first learned about our daughters learning differences we were all relieved. With the test results we knew the ‘why’ of her struggles. Our next step was to develop the ‘hows’ of learning that would lead to her formal education success.
Honestly, getting a diagnosis was a big letdown. Six months in we were taking medication and getting accommodations in school but learning was still hard. That’s the sucky part of LD’s. A diagnosis gives you information about why you learn differently but nothing is cured. LD’s are always with you.
My kiddo was tortured by formal education requirements like geometry and algebra. I say tortured because I can promise you that my daughter will NEVER choose a career that has anything to do with theorems and equations. Suffering through those classes did not make her a better human. It did not develop her love for learning. Taking these gatekeeper classes (aka classes that weed out the workers from the owners) only made her hate school more. Since we understood the purpose of these classes and the post-high school opportunities they afforded, we kept at it.
I edited papers and had Shae read me homework assignments over the phone when I traveled for work. Family friends who work as engineers tutored her after hours. Note cards. White boards. You name it, we used it. Failure was never an option. But quitting was.
The summer before senior year of high school Shae and I drove across the country for her college road trip. We were living on the west coast when her brother was a junior which meat a long drive across deserts to Arizona schools. On Shae’s trip we visited colleges in Vermont, New York and New Hampshire. The adventure was fun though the drive was a beast. We got home, reality set in and and Shae announced no college for her. As parents we chalked the decision up to school fatigue and fear. Fear is a crazy thing. It will talk have you talking yourself out of trying something before you even start. For that reason, we required Shae talk to some trusted adults before she made a firm decision about higher education. Reluctantly, she decided to attend Houston Community College.
Right as Shae was completing her first year at HCC she started experiencing blurry vision. When she told us about her vision she also revealed that she had been having nightly headaches for months. She never said a word and we were concerned. An office visit to her pediatrician led to a MRI. There was a spot on my kids brain and no one knew what it was. Biopsies, scans, draws became our life for a year. School — and life — were on complete hold.
With no cancer diagnosis and a crazy list of symptoms, after nine months doctors began treating Shae for an undiagnosed chronic illness. After a year off from college, she eased back into HCC taking college classes. We gave Shae six months and then we called a family meeting demanding that she start living her life again. We could not live in fear of the unknown and what-ifs.
A semester part time lead to a full time and then in the fall of 2013, Shae moved to Denton to attend UNT to complete a degree she probably never really believed she could attain. While we as parents always told her she could conquer the world, Shae was the one living with illnesses and LDs. She was the one having to advocate for her accommodations at a ginormous university while also managing headaches, body pains and swelling. Shae’s success had nothing to do with us.
And she did it. In 114 days Shae will be a college graduate. Even with all she has been through Shae Lisa Jackson will graduate in six years, the national average. She is an advocate for herself and others with LDs. She is a popular YouTuber with a growing following. And she continues to pursue her true passion, acting, with plans for a big move away from Houston in the near future.
Given the obstacles she has overcome, I know it was God’s grace that got us here. I always tell her if I had to deal with the challenges she had as a student I would have quit a long time ago. I can honestly say that [bctt tweet=”There is something special in @ShaeLisaJackson and I feel very honored to be able to witness it up front.”].
So when Shae got out of the car at the bus stop I could feel the emotions rising. I threw my arms in the air and started singing, Grad-u-ation time, come on! Of course she rolled her eyes and laughed. I got in the car and cried. It was a good cry. A cry of joy and anticipation. A cry of expectation that whatever challenges she faces in life she always comes out on top. This kid never quits even when she wants to. Even when people doubt her. Even when she doubts herself. She has that grown woman faith that boldly declares: I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. Philippians 4:1
To our tribe we say, Thank You! Your prayers, encouragement and support have meant the world to us. You carried us when we could not see a way forward. We love you and hope to see you in Denton in May. Click to see Shae’s graduation information.
P.S. Our tribe is huge and we appreciate all of you. We owe a special debt to those of y’all who helped us with the heavy lifting at critical times in this journey.