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AU News

Three Graduates Share Their Stories

May 5, 2023
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At Anderson University, we hear a lot about “Knowledge for Your journey.” Three graduates with their own remarkable journeys to share are (from left) Jessica Blanton, Jenny Clark and Lacey Simpson.

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As Anderson University celebrates its spring graduates, consider that each individual graduate has their own story of how they got to where they are. Below are three graduates sharing their own journeys.


Jessica Blanton

Jessica Blanton is receiving her Elementary Education degree with an Early Childhood add-on from the Anderson University College of Education. She’s married with two children—one is 17 and the other 24. 

“I married my High School sweetheart. We’ve been together for 25 years. I didn’t go to college, because being a mom was more important,” Blanton said. “I raised my babies and then I went to college.”

Blanton loved children as a mother, but she also wanted to share her love with young students in a classroom setting, so she began substituting at Flat Rock Elementary School in Anderson District 3. Things progressed for Blanton from there. When her youngest child was in third grade, she decided she wanted to become a kindergarten assistant at her school.

Blanton feels a special closeness with her teaching colleagues at Flat Rock Elementary, which was made clear to her when her son was seriously injured in a car accident. 

“Five-and-a-half years ago in November, my oldest son was 18 at the time and had a car wreck and he received a spinal cord injury. We were told he would have a five percent chance of ever recovering or moving,” Blanton said. “One of the first pictures that I got after his wreck was my school family holding hands and praying for us, and I said that day that I will never leave this family—my school family—because not only do they care for the babies, but they care for me.” 

Blanton’s son recovered beyond the doctors’ expectations.

“Long story short—he walks and he works, and he is a miracle. He defied five percent and he’s got a little bit of a limp; but hey, we’re way farther than the doctors ever told us we would be,” Blanton said.

At Flat Rock Elementary, Blanton’s principal observed her as she taught and saw in her lots of potential. She asked Blanton to consider enrolling at a college and earning an education degree. A teaching assistant across the hall from her was enrolled in adult studies at Anderson University and influenced her to enroll there. Blanton didn’t take juggling a family and job lightly, but was willing to give it a try. She has no regrets.

“I am the first generation in my family to ever attempt a four year college, so it was really important to me as I’ve been filling out my graduation information—my maiden name is on my diploma… It felt like I was honoring my parents and breaking the cycle to put that maiden name on my diploma,” Blanton said. 

When she walks on the stage, Blanton will wear on her gown a stole she made with the words “Firsts are best because they are beginnings.”

“The quote stands for being the first in my family and breaking a cycle of just not believing in education,” Blanton said, adding that on the other side of her stole are names of her classmates. Blanton gave her father a photo of her and was heartened when he said he took it to his shop and was showing it to everybody.


Jenny Clark 

Jenny Clark had a good job at an Upstate company, but after more than 20 years, she decided to follow her heart and pursue her dream of teaching. She discovered that the Master of Arts in Teaching (MAT) degree offered by the Anderson University College of Education opened doors for her to be a classroom teacher.

“I come from the business sector, having worked at an Upstate water filtration company for almost 10 years. I started out as a receptionist and was promoted several times. They are a local company that provides residential and commercial water needs. We also worked with the State Department to provide water filtration across the world at the United States Embassies,” Clark said. 

Despite the success Clark was having, she felt that something was missing. 

“I had been unhappy in my profession for a long time. I did a good bit of praying and God prompted me to pursue teaching,” Clark said. 

When she graduated from high school, Clark considered teaching. 

“I ended up dropping out of (college) and then 20 years later went back and finished my bachelor’s degree. Business was very slow, so I went online and did a bit of searching after I discovered that it was indeed teaching that I needed to get back into,” Clark said. 

She felt taking classes online wasn’t an option, since she would eventually be doing a practicum in a classroom. She discovered that Anderson University had education programs at the University Center at Greenville. She discovered that the master of arts in teaching (MAT) was right for her, so she enrolled.

“I had so many great professors who were holding my hand every step of the way and were just reiterating to me ‘this is what God chose for you to do’ and ‘you are rocking it’ kind of thing. The support factor was huge,” Clark said. “As I was training, it was like God was saying ‘you need to do what you set out to do’ and basically He set me on this path. I don’t have any children. Even my friends are like ‘what are you going to do in a classroom with 20 kids? You’ve never babysat before.’ I said ‘I don’t ask the questions, God just sent me.’”

Clark has already begun teaching second grade at East End Elementary School in Easley, part of the School District of Pickens County. 

“I had already signed a contract with Pickens County back in December. In March they offered me the full time position,” Clark said. 

Clark feels that the two years in her MAT program has equipped her to succeed in the classroom. 

“In the grand scheme of things, two years when you’re an adult—that’s nothing these days. Take the leap of faith,” Clark said. “You’ve got to have big faith. You don’t know until you try it. You pray, you do the work, and it worked out. God doesn’t put that desire on your heart if He doesn’t intend for something to come of it. I truly believe that.” 


Lacey Simpson

After studying respiratory therapy at a technical college, Lacey Simpson was reconsidering her career options. She realized she was more interested in helping others find help with mental health issues rather than physical health issues. That’s when she enrolled in Anderson University’s Human Services Department’s Behavioral Health program in the College of Health Professions.

“I started out at a technical college for respiratory therapy. I had a brother-in-law who committed suicide. He had a lot of mental health issues and depression,” Simpson said. “I felt like (respiratory therapy) was a vocation that was not where I was supposed to be. I was scrolling through Facebook and an ad for AU popped up for Behavioral Health, and I just thought this has to be a sign. So I got some information on it, and then I applied.” 

As a mother of four children, Simpson says her studies have been “quite a journey.”

She commented, “I was like ‘this is just where I’m supposed to be, and I feel like God pulls you where He wants you to be.’ I am a first-generation student. I was raised by a grandmother. I wouldn’t say education was not as important, because I also have ADD and I grew up in the nineties. School was always hard for me. College, I don’t think, was ever in my cards growing up, so to be a first generation college graduate just kind of makes it bittersweet—it’s kind of emotional in a way.”

Simpson’s children are now 13, 11, 10 and three. All along the way, she has shared her educational journey with them.

“We would compare grades, because if I expect them to get good grades, I need to get good grades, so it’s been, ‘let me see your report card and I’ll show you what I’ve got in my grades so far,’ so it’s kind of showing them that it doesn’t matter how old you get, if you’ve got a goal or a dream, you chase it, because no one’s ever going to give it to you, and it is a feeling of being proud that I made it this far.”

Simpson has also felt that her professors have provided encouragement and guidance to help her succeed. 

“All of my professors were so great. Rhonda Gambrell, James Campbell… I can’t remember all of them, because I’ve had so many. Those were the two that stuck out in my mind, and I’ve had Professor Gambrell since I started at AU. They try to make sure that everyone has the best chance to be successful,” Simpson said. “There are other universities, but personally AU—they make you feel like you’re family. They get to know you by name, and they remember you, and they make you feel validated like you’re just not another face at that college.” 

Simpson enthusiastically looks forward to the day she graduates.

“I’m 32 years old. I had graduation pictures taken, and I made sure that I’ve done all of the little things like getting a ring and stuff like that,” Simpson said.

Simpson hopes to apply to a graduate counselor of education program at another institution in the fall. Her ultimate goal is to become a mental health counselor for adolescents.


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