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Having recently served as the student speaker for the spring commencement ceremony of Eastern Kentucky University’s College of Education and graduated magna cum laude as an Honors Scholar, Jessica Dobbs will begin her teaching career this fall at Bell Elementary in her native Wayne County, Kentucky.

But this dream was almost derailed day one.

It was August 2015: Move-In Day for Eastern Kentucky University freshmen. With the last of the many boxes packed to her Burnam Hall room, Jessica Dobbs’ family members were ready to say goodbye. It was, as Dobbs recalled in her commencement remarks, a “tearful goodbye. I couldn’t believe they had actually let me go through with this. What were they thinking?”

That night, as she and her roommate cried together, Dobbs pondered packing up, quitting “this terrible thing called college” and heading back home to Wayne County. She called her mother that night and shared all her reasons for leaving. But Mom reminded her of why she enrolled at Eastern.

“I’ll never forget the words she said that night: ‘Jessica, I love you and I’m not ever going to tell you that you can’t come home. But I want you to know that if you quit, there are going to be a lot of students who will be negatively impacted. They will be deprived of having you as a teacher, and that just has to be the worst thing in the world. If you want to really be a teacher and change kids’ lives, you should stay.’

“I clung to that motivation each day and made it through the first day, the first week, and the second week, and then I felt right at home,” Dobbs recalled.

Supportive and passionate professors eased the transition and convinced Dobbs she was at the right place and on the right track.

“Dr. Delinda Dent taught us the importance of using books as mirrors because students need to see themselves in the books we utilize in our classrooms. Dr. Peggy Petrilli demonstrated the importance of forming good student relationships built on trust and respect, not fear. She boosted my self-confidence and revolutionized the way I think about the classroom management. Dr. Connie Hodge left us feeling invigorated after each class to change lives and people (and) reminded us that these students, no matter what. These women are just a few of the countless professors at EKU who took all of us, basically blank slates, and turned us into the educators we are today.”

At Eastern, the Wayne County High School graduate served as an Honors Living Learning Community resident adviser in Burnam Hall and a member of the Kentucky Education Association-Student Program. Dobbs’ Honors thesis was titled “Poverty and Eastern Kentucky School Districts: An Analysis of Effective Interventions that Lead to Academic Success.” Her goal is to someday return to teach as an EKU faculty member so she can “mentor and inspire future teachers just as my professors did for me.”

For now, just months away from presenting her first lesson at Bell Elementary, Dobbs offered some advice for her fellow soon-to-be educators.

“Sometimes, the best thing you can do for your students is put the planner down and rest well. You have to fill your own cup before you can pour into others.”

Secondly, “you don’t have to be perfect to make a difference. Sometimes, when you look at the situations and home lives of your students, it will absolutely break your heart. But don’t let yourself get hopeless, for there is always hope to be found. These students are depending on us as a constant in their lives. Provide students the support they need. Cheer them on when they lose motivation. Love them when they are having terrible days.”

Just as her own mother had done that fateful day four years ago.