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Gwinnett County woman keeps promise to her mother by earning college degree

Jolene McGee lost her mother to lung cancer, but promised her she would go back to school before she died.

DULUTH, Ga. — Gas South Arena in Duluth was filled with the typical sounds of excited graduates and families Thursday. For one woman in particular, the day was truly special. 

"Once upon a time, I didn't even think that it was possible," Jolene McGee told 11Alive's Karys Belger. 

Her road to graduation had a few challenges, but she remained determined.

"I lost my father when I was 18. And then my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2015. She passed away in 2017," McGee said.

After her father died, McGee worked multiple jobs to help bring in cash. Along the way, she had four children. She managed to find time to enroll at Georgia Gwinnett College when she was 30 years old, only to take another pause when she learned her mother was sick. 

For McGee, getting her degree is the culmination of a promise she made to her mom.

"Most importantly, it was for my mother," she said. "I promised her that I was going to get back into school and I had to fulfill that promise."

She joined more than 500 members of the Georgia Gwinnett College Fall 2022 graduating class Thursday. Her wife, children and aunts were there. 

McGee said she's sad her parents could not be present, but she's glad for the familial support she's had along the way. 

"This is a day of joy. I worked very hard and I deserved this accolade and I said that this morning. I'm going to wake up and choose not to be mediocre," she told 11Alive. 

McGee received a degree in Human Services with a concentration in social work. As a military spouse, she said she wants to channel her experience into a role with the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

She lives in Gwinnett County with her children and spouse. She said she hopes other women of color will look at her and realize they can achieve their dreams and shatter glass ceilings. 

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