JANS – Walking across the stage during the 2023 Fall Commencement Ceremony was among the first steps JSU online graduate Sharita Hansford took on Jackson State’s campus.
The Louisiana native received her bachelor’s degree in family and early childhood education in front of all her loved ones who supported the milestone in her academic journey.
“I’ve never been to the campus before,” said Hansford. “I wish I would have had the chance to get the on-campus experience. I don’t even have a JSU ID card. I would love to have it.”
Although she earned a degree as a non-traditional student, Hansford said her most recent achievement feels like a dream she thought would never come true. Her academic journey began in 2009 as a young wife and mother of two.
Two years later, she was stricken by a rare illness that caused her to have massive headaches and seizures. Unable to determine the cause of her seizures, doctors placed Hansford in a medically induced coma.
“It took them a long time to figure it out, and they had to move me to many different hospitals to find the cause,” Hansford shared.
A year later, during a hospital stay in Alabama, a doctor who had treated a patient in a different country with similar symptoms discovered that a tumor on one of her ovaries was the source of her illness.
“They removed the tumor, and I started to get well. Then they took me off the breathing machine and woke me from the coma,” Hansford recalled.
After receiving treatment, she began her long and trying road to recovery. The psychological, physical, and emotional toll of waking from a nearly year-long coma eventually placed a strain on her family.
Hansford said she and her husband, at the time, disagreed about her decision to stop taking the medications due to fear of another tumor forming and causing her to become ill again.
“It was super hard, and I was super hard to deal with,” she explained. “I was going through so many emotional things. I felt like the medications kept me sleepy all the time and one day, I realized it was the medicine keeping me from progressing.”
She and her husband eventually divorced, and he was granted custody of their two minor children.
Hansford said she was devastated by the court’s ruling. Her ex-husband and two children soon relocated to Atlanta.
“It was such a hurtful feeling. I did not understand why something like this was happening,” she shared.
Despite the personal setback, Hansford continued to focus on her recovery. She was determined to get her life back on track and regain custody of her children. After six years of holiday visits, school breaks, and weekend getaways, her children made the decision to move back to Mississippi with her.
“My family and friends supported and helped me through the entire process, and from there, things got better,” she said. “My memory and my mind started returning to where it was.”
WORKING IN EARLY CHILDCARE
Once a sense of normalcy was restored for Hansford, she discovered her true passion resided in early childhood education. She founded the Dream Big, Learn and Play Center, a daycare facility in Biloxi, Mississippi.
“I opened the childcare center in 2020, and it is still running successfully as we speak,” said Hansford.
Hansford has nearly 20 years of experience working in early childhood education. She began her career working at the daycare facilities her children attended. Her husband was in the military during their marriage, and they had to travel often.
“I started when I was in D.C., at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling Air Force Base. I worked at the daycare center there. Then, when we traveled overseas, I worked at daycare centers at both bases, we lived on in England,” Hansford shared.
After returning from England, she worked at the daycare center on Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, until her health took a turn for the worse.
Following her recovery, Hansford explored other fields of work but ultimately realized that she loved working with children. She remarried in 2015 and had two additional children with her husband.
In 2022, she knew she was ready to “finish what she started” and enrolled in JSU’s online program.
“I wanted to go to an HBCU. I decided to try Jackson State, and I’m glad I did,” she said.
Hansford had previously earned an associate’s degree from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. She credits JSU Online for allowing her to complete the courses around her busy schedule as a wife, mother, and business owner.
“I have to set an example for my children. I feel like I can’t tell my children they have to go to college, and I did not go and finish school successfully,” she explained. “Education is something that no one can take away from you.”
After graduating on Dec. 8, Hansford plans to eventually earn a doctorate, open more childcare facilities, and begin writing a book about her journey.
“You have to keep dreaming. The more you dream and the more ideas you have, the more successful you will be,” she shared.