Graduate Spotlight: Jessica Johnson

Posted on May 15, 2018

For many years, Jessica Johnson had a recurring dream. She was trapped in a strange house with no doors or windows. There was no way out. She estimates she had that dream at least 20 times over the years. Two years ago, she had that dream again, but this time it was different. This time the house had doors and windows and she was able to leave. She invited other people who were trapped in the house to come with her. Some followed and they fled into the woods near the house. Eventually they encountered a mountain and started to climb it. As Jessica climbed and climbed, the others who were following her started to give up and went back down. The higher Jessica climbed, the more people below her gave up. When she reached the summit, she was alone to enjoy the beautiful view.

To Jessica, this new version of the dream was symbolic of her finally breaking free from feeling trapped in a dark place and finally rising to the top with a clear view of a more beautiful life in front of her.

And she has Rock Valley College to thank for it.

Jessica first attended RVC in 2008 and was working toward a certification in Cisco Networking. While taking the Cisco Certified Network Associate Routing & Switching (CCNA) exam, she kept failing the OSPF (Open Shortest Path First) portion. On top of that, she was dealing with some very difficult personal issues. She made the difficult decision to drop out of school.

She eventually met someone who would help change the course of her life in many ways. It was her boyfriend, Kurt, who convinced her to go back to school.

“I had considered going back, but I guess I just was afraid to fail,” says Jessica. “All I could think was that if I fail again it will devastate my self-esteem.”

Jessica Johnson received the Outstanding Office Professional Student Award from the RVC business department on May 11, 2018.

This time around, she decided to pursue a degree in Office Professional. There was a big problem standing in the way though. When she dropped out in 2008, she did not officially withdraw her classes, which severely damaged her GPA. Luckily, she was able to speak to staff members at RVC and was approved for “Academic Forgiveness” due to the circumstances that caused her to leave.

“They understood and they helped me,” says Jessica. “Thank God for RVC. You guys are awesome.”

To say things went better for Jessica the second time around would be an understatement. She started doing so well, in fact, that she began helping other students as a peer tutor in RVC’s Tutoring Center. At one point she was tutoring five students in three different subjects (CIS 102, PCI 106, and ENG 101). She feels helping others even helped her do better in her classes, while also raising her self-esteem.

Jessica made such an impact on the students she tutored that two of them decided to nominate her to be this year’s student speaker at the commencement ceremony. One of those students was Jacquelyn Zaslavsky. She considers Jessica to be a prime example of a role model at Rock Valley College.

“Jessica has been a great role model for me and other students,” says Jacquelyn. “She is always offering her educational tools and organizational skills to help me better my writing skills and study habits.”

Tiffany Taylor is another student Jessica tutored who also felt compelled to nominate Jessica for the student speaker honor.

“What stood out the most to me about Jessica was her willingness to help me and others achieve our highest potential and goals,” says Tiffany. “She was down to earth, but at the same time very clever and compassionate about her role as a tutor.”

Tutoring has been a very rewarding experience for Jessica.

“A lot of the students that I tutored gave me little cards and ‘Thank yous’ saying things like, ‘You did a great job, and I understand this material because of you and can now go and use this in the world because of you.’ That means a lot to me.”

Much like she helped those students, Jessica knows she could not have accomplished what she has at RVC without her professors.

“I had some great professors who just went above and beyond to help me out, especially Professor [Karen] Blaski . She’s amazing. Absolutely incredible. She helped me not only with classwork, but with personal issues.

“I kind of came from a background where I got used to people being so negative and Professor Blaski made me realize that there are good people in the world.”

“I never imagined any of this would be possible for me. I don’t ever want to give up again.”

Associate Professor Lydia Slater and Dean Sharon Jacobsen are two more of those good people Jessica refers to and she recalls a specific time where their compassion really meant the world to her.

“I had a severe infection in my spine and bladder,” says Jessica. “I felt like I needed to attend class, but they were incredibly understanding of the situation. They told me to go home to rest and recover, and they assured me that my grades would not suffer, which they didn’t.”

Because of the great tutoring experience she had and the impact her professors made on her, Jessica has decided she wants to be a professor someday. She plans to transfer to a four year university in the fall to pursue that dream so she can make a similar difference for future students.

“You’re changing people’s lives every day like the people here at RVC changed mine,” says Jessica.

On May 11, Jessica walked across the stage to receive her diploma a decade after she first started her journey at RVC. She graduated with honors and received the Outstanding Office Professional Student Award from the business department earlier that day.

She spent a long time trapped in that windowless house with no doors, and it was a long climb up the mountain, but Jessica feels she has finally reached the summit.

“I’ve been through some pretty hard times,” says Jessica. “I didn’t think I would even be alive, let alone graduating with honors or even trying out for commencement speaker.

“I never imagined any of this would be possible for me. I don’t ever want to give up again.”


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