From left: Jill Kennedy with her son, Eli Kapkowski.
On Saturday, Jill Kennedy will graduate with her bachelor’s degree in business, and a renewed sense of confidence and motivation.
At the afternoon commencement ceremony, Kennedy will share her story with her fellow graduates.
During high school, the Champaign-Urbana, Ill. native entered into the workforce without any interests or aspirations to further her education.
“I was anxious to get out of high school, and in your junior or senior year, you’re asked what you want to do and I didn’t know,” said Kennedy, 40. “I didn’t feel like I was smart enough just because of the grades I was making in high school by not paying attention, not putting forth effort.”
In 1998, she began her local career in Tampa as Project Manager at IBM. The following year, she began working for AT&T when the corporation bought IBM’s data networking division where she worked. Kennedy, who has a background in router configurations, now works as a Six Sigma Practitioner who is Black Belt Certified for AT&T, helping improve product quality and waste management through statistical analysis.
“Almost all of my peers were college graduates, and I felt that was something I needed to have as my experience as well,” she said.
The economy also indirectly played a role in her decision.
“As I started to see my peers being laid off because their work was outsourced, that triggered for me that this job isn’t forever; what am I going to do and where can I go?”
Realizing she had to compete with increasingly younger, fresh-out-of-college jobseekers, she sought an answer at SPC Downtown and enrolled in fall 2005. She knew this would not be easy, as she was a single mother to her 2-year-old son, Eli, but needed to ensure financial security for them. She found flexibility in the offerings of online and in-person classes.
“The online and in-person classes just afforded me what was necessary for me to get my degree,” Kennedy said. “The flexibility is what I needed because of a full-time career and being a mother and wife,” said Kennedy, who married in 2009.
She wants Eli, now 8, to understand the importance of an education through her experience and example.
“I’ve talked with him about how I didn’t go to school the traditional way, and that the expected course of life is that after high school you go to college,” she said. So when I talk to him, it’s not that he’s going to be in 12 years of school, it’s instead that he’ll be in a minimum of 16 years of school.”
Over the years, the mother and son motivated each other in their schooling.
“He’s ridden through this with me,” Kennedy said. “He’s been pretty much on this journey with me the whole time.”
Eli is her motivation for participating in the commencement ceremony.
“I wouldn’t have walked,” she said. “I’m 40 years old; I don’t necessarily think I need to walk, but I’m walking because of my son. It takes a lot of hard work to get here, but when you walk in graduation and you get handed that diploma, and I want him to see that there is a reward at the end of this.”
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