After putting her degree on hold for nearly two decades, veteran crosses the finish line
Solana Stevens Jackson never gave up on her dream of becoming an advocate for her students.
When Solana Stevens Jackson first set foot on the campus of Metropolitan State University of Denver in 2005, she had no idea she would still be there nearly two decades later. At the time, she was a young high school graduate in search of an affordable, quality education. But unknown to Jackson, she was climbing onto an 18-year rollercoaster ride.
This winter, she’ll finally disembark as an MSU Denver graduate with a degree in Special Education. Jackson is now a wife, a mother, a veteran and a future special-education teacher.
“I always knew I wanted to finish at MSU Denver,” she said. But that was easier said than done. Jackson, a graduate of East High School in Denver, had enlisted in the U.S. Army Reserve shortly before beginning college. But soon, she was deployed to Iraq as a supply specialist. Even after leaving the military, she remained overseas in Bahrain and Japan with her husband, also a veteran.
Returning to metro Denver, and her alma mater, in the era of Covid-19 was daunting. Jackson, now a mother of three, had to contend with civilian life, a long commute from Colorado Springs and the post-traumatic stress disorder and depression she carried from her experiences overseas.
Overwhelmed, she tried to hide her struggles from her family. “I would go in the shower and cry and breathe,” she recalled. “I thought I had to be strong.”
But at MSU Denver, Jackson discovered strength in her vulnerability by tapping into a lifelong interest in special education. Spurred by her memories of a beloved uncle with cerebral palsy, she started working with children with special needs as part of her degree program. Helping them confront their varying abilities meant tapping into her softer side.
“Since student teaching, I’ve come full circle,” she said. “I see the world through the lens of the students. I see how they feel and comfort them. I’m a nurturer.” As an advocate for her students at Columbia Elementary School, Jackson realized she was capable of being a rock in a world that could feel like quicksand.
Providing that support to others — and asking for help — pushed Jackson forward. With the help of MSU Denver and programs such as Finish What You Started, which provides tuition assistance and individualized support for eligible students, Jackson persevered.
When she walks across the stage to accept her degree, she’ll do so in front of her friends and family, most important among them her three proud children.
Though she had no idea it would take nearly 20 years to get a degree, Jackson has few regrets about the length or trajectory of her educational journey.
“I just want to be an example to someone who doesn’t have a voice,” she said, reflecting on how she kept going despite every obstacle. “Don’t quit. It’s hard, but you’ve got to keep going. Even if it takes 20 years to finish.”
Editor’s note: FOX31 named Jackson its Serving Those Who Serve Hero of the Month for December 2023!