Here are a few highlights of this weekend’s Kansas University’s Commencement.
Saturday • 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., KU Visitor Center open at 1502 Iowa.
Sunday • 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., Memorial Drive closed to traffic. (Parking ban begins midnight Saturday.) • 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., Class of 2009 commencement lunch. Chancellor’s residence, 1532 Lilac Lane. • 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., KU Visitor Center open at 1502 Iowa. • 2 p.m., Commencement participants assemble on Memorial Drive. • 2:30 p.m., Commencement procession begins.
She started the journey 12 years ago, facing plenty of uphill battles. So when 30-year-old Kansas University graduate Jennifer Thomas makes the ceremonial walk down the hill Sunday, you can bet there will be a few tears of joy.
“I don’t know that I ever really considered getting a four-year degree,” Thomas said. “I don’t think it’s really hit yet.”
Thomas, who is receiving a bachelor’s degree from KU’s School of Social Welfare, is far from a traditional student.
She’s a mother to six boys — two stepsons and four children of her own — ranging in age from 3 to 19. Her 12-year-old son has cerebral palsy and relies on a wheelchair or walker to get around. She does the cooking and cleaning and drives the kids to and from school and activities. She considers herself the “CEO of the household.”
“I think the hardest part about going to school and having a family is just trying to manage schedules so that everybody’s where they need to be, and I’m able to get to class on time,” Thomas said.
She may have made it to class on time, but there were many days when she’d have the kids in tow. It wasn’t unusual for her to take one or more of her children to sit through an algebra class or a three-hour lecture, usually when KU and the Lawrence public school schedules didn’t match up.
Her college career began more than a decade ago, when Thomas, then a single mom of two with another child on the way, attended Garden City Community College.
She went to school off and on there, receiving an associate’s degree, and eventually moved to Lawrence with her husband in 2006.
It was her 12-year-old son Matthew and legal battles he faced that prompted Thomas to return to school, in hopes of becoming a lawyer.
“Had I not had Matthew, this would not be probably where I was at all,” she said. “Prior to that I had never considered becoming a lawyer. It never had been an idea that had ever crossed my mind.”
Thomas had her fair share of dealings with lawyers. She had to fight a number of battles in western Kansas to get her son equal access.
She eventually filed and won a lawsuit in federal court against the Scott City Recreation Commission after they refused to let Matthew play in a baseball league because of his disability.
Now, with diploma in hand, she’s heading to Washburn Law School in the fall on a full-ride scholarship to help others fight the fight she’s already gone through.
“I was afraid the next parent that came along was going to have to fight the same battle that I did,” Thomas said.
Thomas will be participating in the School of Social Welfare’s graduation this afternoon at the Lied Center, and having never attended a KU graduation, she said she’s looking forward to Sunday’s commencement.
Although she does have some trepidation about starting law school in the fall, she’s confident she’ll make it through the next three years the same way she succeeded at KU.
“It really had to be a one-day-at-a-time kind of thing,” she said.