In a five-day period in August 2016, her long-time boyfriend died, and she lost her home, most of her belongings, and her car to a tornado.
Nobody would have blamed her if she had taken time away from her studies at Indiana University Kokomo, or even dropped out altogether, because of those tragedies.
But Jessica refused to let life get her down — in fact, it made her more determined than ever to graduate on time, in May 2017. She is earning a Bachelor of General Studies degree.
“It’s a lot more than a walk across the stage. It means I didn’t give up,” she said. “It’s more than a four-year piece of paper. It’s success. It’s accomplishment. It’s strength. I had so many reasons to give up.”
Gordon, from Young America, sees herself as an example of overcoming obstacles.
Shortly after beginning her senior year, her boyfriend, Nate Forrester, was hospitalized in intensive care. He was diabetic, and she’d been with him through several hospitalizations in the seven years they’d known each other. This wasn’t unusual.
This time, though, Nate, who was 24, suffered a stroke. He had been recovering and regaining strength in occupational therapy, but took a sudden turn for the worse and died on August 19, 2016.
His funeral was August 24 in Delphi. Jessica borrowed her grandmother’s car to attend the services because her own car wouldn’t start. She left it in the parking lot at her home in Park Place Apartments.
Afterwards, all she could think about was getting home, to recover and process the day’s events — but she couldn’t return because of the tornadoes that struck her apartment complex, and destroyed the building she called home.
“I felt like it was one hit after another,” she said, adding that all the windows were blown out of her car, and it would cost more to fix it than the vehicle was worth.
When the building was deemed safe enough to enter, Jessica had two days to retrieve any of her belongings that were salvageable.
“It was so traumatic. That was my life, everything I owned, water-soaked and destroyed,” she said.
“The scene looked like something out of a war zone,” she said of the moment she opened the door to what was left of her apartment. “It was so peaceful at first, and then you take in all the destruction. There was glass everywhere, and a lot of tree branches that shouldn’t have been there.”
Jessica rescued what she could, and moved in with her grandmother, more determined than ever to persevere.
“It’s hard when you’re up against a situation like that,” she said. “You want to give up, but you can’t. Nate had encouraged me a lot in school. I couldn’t give up, because he wanted me to finish. He would expect that of me, and I’m not one to give up.”
Her professors worked with her to make up classes she missed for the funeral and unexpected move, and Jessica found extra support from her colleagues at the IU Kokomo Library, where she’s worked since her freshman year.
She received a grant from the Professional Staff Council’s Student in Crisis fund to replace some of her belongings, and took advantage of services offered by the Counseling and Psychological Services office on campus.
“I don’t think I would be coping with this appropriately without going through that program,” she said. “I believe in reaching out and using the services offered as a student. They’re here for a reason. That’s what helped me overcome this time.”
She’s excited to graduate, noting she is the first in her family to attend college and earn a degree, which makes her accomplishment even more meaningful.
Inspired by her campus library job, Jessica wants to earn a Master of Science in Library science, so she can attain her dream job working in a museum in Washington, D.C.
First, however, she plans to take a vacation, and work a year to save tuition money and continue her recovery from the last year.
“Life has kind of hit me in the face for the last six months,” she said. “I’ve pushed through, but now I’m ready for some time. I want to be ready to focus completely on my master’s degree when I start it.”
Jessica hopes others see that hard times don’t have to stop you from achieving a dream.
“I’m very adamant on not giving up,” she said. “I lost someone very close to me, and then my home and almost everything I owned. It gets stressful, and you want to quit, but you have to find something to push you. I surrounded myself with good people, from the library staff, my professors, and my good friends. Use the resources you have, and never give up.”
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana