JSU Student Achieves A Dream Begun Nearly 14 Years Ago

JSU Student Achieves A Dream Begun Nearly 14 Years Ago


By Heather Greene, a graduate assistant in the JSU Office of Public Relations

For every Jacksonville State University graduating student, walking across the stage Friday night to receive his or her diploma will be memorable. However, for Kathy Bell Pope, this walk to receive her diploma will signify the culmination of a long journey begun nearly 14 years ago.

Graduating with honors from Cleburne County High School in 1999 and ranked fourth out of her class of 99, Pope was awarded a full presidential scholarship to attend JSU and enrolled as a full-time student that fall.

However, the summer after her freshman year, she found herself pregnant and afraid. After she discovered she was pregnant, the father of her child stepped out of her life and she bravely stepped into her sophomore year in the fall of 2000.

Depression and bouts of morning sickness soon took their toll on her and she made the decision to withdraw from classes, as she was struggling to attend class and had already missed more than the three days allowed by the history department at that time.

However, on the very same day that she had planned to withdraw from her classes, she received a timely word of encouragement from Dr. George Lauderbaugh, one of her instructors.

Dr. Lauderbaugh had just begun his first semester of teaching at JSU and had about 40 students in each of his three sections of U.S. history. In an attempt to get to know the students one-on-one, he asked them to write a 3-5 page autobiography, detailing important aspects of their lives, future aspirations, etc.

When he read Pope’s story, he felt compelled to give her a call.

“Kathy Bell Pope’s [autobiographical essay] was among the best in terms of expression and proper style,” explains Dr. Lauderbaugh. “She was also very open in expressing her concern that she was pregnant and did not have much support. I encouraged her to stay the course, reminding her that she had the brain power to excel and that her tuition had already been paid.”

Dr. Lauderbaugh even offered to give her a grade of “incomplete” and arrange makeup tests for her throughout the following semester.

“I tried even harder to make sure I attended every one of his classes from then on because I knew he cared,” says Pope. “I worked extra hard to make sure I was prepared each class period because I knew he would call on me to help keep me accountable and up-to-date on my reading. Because of his encouragement, I did not quit that semester.”

At seven months pregnant, Pope completed her semester with three As and two Bs.

Prior to her son’s birth, Pope recalls that Dr. Lauderbaugh even sent her a baby shower gift.

On February 15, 2001, her son Donovan Wesley was born and she made sure to bring him by JSU to meet Dr. Lauderbaugh during office hours.

Despite having strong family support, Pope dealt with complications during her pregnancy, ensuing health issues for her son, and the increasing financial burden of going to school full time and being a single teen mom. Thus, her dreams of finishing school began to fade as time wore on.

Pope withdrew from school and forfeited her scholarship. She found a job as a financial administrator at a local church, which allowed for the flexibility needed to participate in her son’s activities. Eventually, she married and the family moved to Oxford.

After some encouragement from her best friend from high school, Pope checked into the possibility of gaining an associate’s degree from a local two-year college, which she did in May 2011.

“That just encouraged me even more,” says Pope, who then decided to further her education and complete her bachelor’s degree in political science. “After much prayer and consideration, situations at work and overwhelming family support created an opportunity for me to return to school full-time.”

Pope returned in the fall of 2012. She admits that it has not always been easy, but she has succeeded in maintaining a 3.7 GPA, was invited to join Pi Sigma Alpha (the national political science honor society), and has served as the treasurer of the Pre-Law Society.

This Friday night, Kathy Pope will be graduating with cum laude honors.

Her son Donovan Wesley (age 12) is now a seventh grader at Oxford Middle School and very much enjoys being involved with sports.

Though he has had his own medical struggles, having been diagnosed with a blood disorder, he has been cleared to return to sports and is also currently learning guitar.

Pope and her husband Lamar Pope, who currently works as a truck driver for BR Williams in Oxford, have been married for nearly six years. Pope will openly admit that their moms set them up.

She has already landed a job, even prior to graduation. However, her journey to further her education may not stop after Friday night, as she says she also has plans to attend law school. Having applied to several law schools, she is seriously considering The Birmingham School of Law due to its convenience. It offers night and weekend courses, which would allow her to work towards her law degree and also work a job to help provide for her family.

“I am thankful for the opportunity I had to pursue my education at JSU,” says Pope. “Not only is it a beautiful campus to look at, the heart of the campus truly beats for the students and I would not have made it to graduation if it were not for the incredible support of exceptional professors and staff on campus combined with the love and support from my wonderful family. No matter what the future holds for me, I know I will make a positive impact because of the impact that has been made in my life from my time at JSU.”

Of Pope’s achievements, Dr. Lauderbaugh says, “She made up her mind to change her circumstances through hard work and steadfast determination. I only helped her get off the starting line in a very long race.”

Jacksonville State University would like to congratulate Pope and all of the students who will be graduating this Friday night. We wish them the best of luck in all of their future endeavors.

For JSU students graduating from the College of Arts and Sciences and the College of Commerce and Business Administration, the commencement ceremony will begin at 4:30 p.m. on Friday, December 13, 2013 in the Pete Mathews Coliseum. The ceremony for students graduating from the College of Education and Professional Studies and the College of Nursing will take place at 7:00 p.m. at the same location.

For information on how to begin your JSU journey, please visit JSU's website.

This article originally appeared in the "Town and Gown" of the Jacksonville News.