Jennifer Link never thought she would see the day that she would walk across the stage as a college graduate.
The mother of two started college twice before, but said she bowed out, feeling as if she wasn’t mature enough to continue.
Her mother wasn’t so sure.
“Her first day of kindergarten, I went and picked her up from school and she said, ‘Mom, been there, done that and I don’t ever want to go back,’” recalled Christine Wages, Jennifer Link’s mother. “I wasn’t ever sure that she would graduate from college.”
But the 28-year-old Paine College salutatorian endured long nights of study and 18-hour semesters to earn her bachelor’s degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminology, all with the goal of setting an example for her sons, Maverick and Beckett.
To be able to graduate on Mother’s Day made the reward that much sweeter, she said.
“She’s unbelievable,” said Jimmy Link, Jennifer Link’s husband and Paine’s head basketball coach. “She did it in three years, and even when we had the children she still made straight A’s.”
Jennifer Link was joined Sunday by 122 other graduates in the 131st Paine College Commencement Convocation at the new Health Education Activities Learning Complex.
The event marked the return of the convocation to Paine’s campus, also becoming the first convocation to be held in the home of the men’s and women’s basketball teams.
The setting couldn’t have been more fitting.
When the graduates entered the complex floor, friends and family exploded in thunderous applause as air horns sounded from the rafters of the packed arena. Some attendees hoisted homemade signs with the names of graduating seniors written on them in bright colors.
Paine celebrated another first by having a sitting governor deliver the convocation speech.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal stood before the graduates to share a simple message: Blaze your own trail.
“I encourage you to not be satisfied with a safe life, where all of the doors and windows are locked and the shades are drawn” he said. “Be bold. Conquer your fears. Live courageously. Be trailblazers.”
Having delivered the convocation address two days prior at Georgia Regents University’s graduation ceremony at the James Brown Arena, Deal said he is honored to be the first sitting governor to speak at Paine.
“This is a great institution, and has a great history,” he said. “It’s an important part in the mosaic of higher education in the state of Georgia. Over the generations, it has done a great job in producing graduates who have become our teachers, who have become our scientist, who have become our researchers. In talking with the president (Dr. George Bradley), they seem to be continuing that effort, and I am very honored to take part in that.”
Deal was also conferred an honorary doctorate during the convocation.
As for Jennifer Link, the next step is to attend law school, though she hasn’t decided where.
“Being a mom, I have to see what’s in the books for me,” she said. “We’ll have to sit down and talk about it, then decide where to go from there.”