By: Jessie Ryan, Executive Vice President, Campaign for College Opportunity
In honor of Mother’s Day, Executive Vice President, Jessie Ryan, shares the instrumental role her mother played in the work that she does today.
Last August, after courageously waging a two-year battle with cancer, my Mother passed away. She was my person. My source of unconditional love, laughter, and encouragement. A larger than life personality, that despite a life characterized by hardship was responsible for shaping me into the purpose-driven woman I am today.
Growing up in poverty, my Mother taught me at a very early age that a college education was my gateway to opportunity. When I was a little girl, each night before I would go to sleep she would read me my favorite fairytale: Cinderella—except that she changed the ending. Instead of saying, “and they lived happily ever after,” my mother would say, “and then Cinderella went to college.” She sometimes added the footnote, “and graduate school.” The message my Mother sent me was clear; my happy ending didn’t consist of a wedding gown, but of a university cap and gown!
Furthermore, my mother instilled in me the belief that it was not enough to simply achieve my college dreams but that I had a profound responsibility to help others access and succeed in reaching their college dreams as well. She taught me that through education and civic participation, together, we could create a better world. These are lessons I work diligently to pass on to my own young children.
I began my college journey at a California Community College and attended three campuses simultaneously to get the classes I needed to transfer in two years. I struggled to navigate a very complex system and by some stroke of luck managed to persevere—continuing on to obtain a bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University and a master’s degree from Saint Mary’s College of California. As a single Mother who hadn’t graduated from college herself, my Mom often shared that she felt as though her life’s hopes were fulfilled when I walked across the stage with a college degree clasped in my hands.
As a lifelong learner and passionate advocate for public education, she was over the moon when I chose to pursue a career in education policy. She closely followed the Campaign for College Opportunity’s hard fought victories on behalf of California students. She cheered when our, women-led organization, became outspoken equity advocates and she wept when I successfully ran for and was elected to public office.
Even in death, my mother fuels my conviction that education is the pathway out of poverty. She continues to be my source of light and inspiration to level the playing field and break the cycle of intergenerational poverty by educating students well and ensuring they can access and succeed in higher education. I continue to thank my mom today and every day for inspiring the work that I do and I am proud to celebrate her this Mother’s Day. To all the other mothers out there inspiring a child with their own fairytale with a twist; keep encouraging your children to dream big. As a daughter, I can attest that we are paying close attention to your words!
Happy Mother’s Day!