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“There’s nothing stopping me”: Sapphire Jackson pursues her college & career dreams
Throughout her childhood and adolescence, 18-year-old Sapphire Jackson yearned to discover what she was great at and what could become her life’s passion. But, unable to articulate the nuance she saw between aspiration and ambition, her family didn’t see a way to reconcile college and career with their faith.
Sapphire clashed with her paternal grandparents, who had become her guardians shortly after she was born. Many tenets of their faith did not sit well with Sapphire, particularly their denomination’s views around education. While her grandparents’ faith believes in schooling, they also value humility, and leaders specifically caution against seeking prestige from college and career. “[They] are taught to be very modest, and that extends to all aspects of life,” Sapphire explains. “It wasn’t a priority to continue beyond high school for most of the people around me, and I felt like going to college and having a career were not things I should focus on.”
Sapphire felt extremely conflicted, and her grades weren’t good. “I had a really hard time,” she says. When she reached the eighth grade, the conflict came to a head, and Sapphire moved out. She stayed at a youth center for a few weeks, before moving in with her maternal grandparents.
“They changed my life,” Sapphire says. “They had both gone to college, and they expressed how important it was to get an education.”
When she changed households, Sapphire had accepted that she wouldn’t go to college. But soon after the move, she recalls, “I started asking, ‘why can’t I do that too? There’s nothing stopping me.’”
She also had some inspiring examples to look up to. Jerry, her grandfather, moved to the United States from Jamaica at the age of 17, worked three jobs to put himself through college, and eventually became an engineer. “He’s really smart, and he has all this knowledge he wants to share with me. It’s a little intimidating!” she laughs.
And her grandmother, Rebecca, was a dental hygienist before she retired. “She worked really hard to put herself through college, and she loved her career. That interested me and got me to look into it,” says Sapphire, who enrolled at the dental assisting program at the Center for Technology, Essex, the technical center affiliated with Colchester High School.
“I absolutely loved the program,” Sapphire recalls. “I felt like I was good at it, and I didn’t feel like I was good at a lot of things in school. Once I started learning about dental hygiene and anatomy, I actually wanted to learn, and I wanted to get good grades. Even on my own time, it was something I wanted to learn about.”
Sapphire also looked up to Beth Ladd, the director of the CTE dental program. “She was so supportive. She really motivated me to want to do well. And when I did do well, she would tell me that, and that felt really good. She was so passionate about her work, and I realized I wanted that for myself, too.”
As part of the CTE program, Sapphire had an opportunity to do a job shadow in the oral surgery office of Dr. William Purdy, which gave her the chance to work with patients for the first time. “Getting to talk to the patients took everything to a whole new level,” Sapphire says. “I really like being able to help people, and it was interesting talking to them and hearing about their situations. I knew that’s what I wanted to do with my life, to be a dental hygienist.”
While her new family situation and her participation in the dental program had provided Sapphire with inspiration and motivation, many of the details of applying to college still felt out of reach.
“As much as I wanted to go to college, I felt kind of lost at the beginning of my senior year. And because I went to the tech program last year, we didn’t talk much about college. So I felt behind in that aspect,” she says.
Then she met Stevya Mukuzo, an outreach counselor with VSAC, who offers guidance and support to college-bound students through the federal GEAR UP program.
“I was nervous at first to meet with her, because I didn’t know where to start. But she gave me a notebook and made me a list, and we met every week for a few months. She helped me apply to CCV and submit my paperwork for student loans and grants. Now, I wish I had met her sooner!” Sapphire says. “On my own, I may not have been as motivated, because it was very scary to think about. Stevya helped it not to be quite as scary.”
Stevya admires Sapphire’s resilience and positive energy. “Despite the challenges she has experienced, Sapphire is passionate about higher education and believes that nothing can stop her. I can’t wait to see what the future has in store for her.”
Sapphire plans to major in health sciences at CCV, since it doesn’t have a specific concentration for dental hygiene. She’s not certain yet whether she’ll do a two-year associate’s program or stay four years to earn her bachelor’s degree. “Whatever is best for my future is what I want to do,” she says. Eventually, she’d like to go on to Vermont Technical College, which offers a dental clinic and a dental hygiene program.
As she looks ahead to college, Sapphire is excited for the greater independence, and for the opportunity to continue to focus on her studies.
“I’m excited to be able to learn and get to where I want to be,” she says. “There are so many different things to learn, from anatomy to instruments. I’ll be able to keep learning for years to come.”
And overall, Sapphire says, “I’m excited to see where my career goes, especially since I never thought I would find something I’d be this passionate about.”
For additional information on college and career planning and help with financial aid from VSAC, go to vsac.org/financialaid and check out our online workshops and events. To find out about our programs for adult students, go to vsac.org/adultlearners. You can also call 800-642-3177, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and visit online at firstname.lastname@example.org.