Jennifer Holcomb, shown with Gordon College Vice President for Academic Affairs Ed Wheeler, was recently named the Gordon College Outstanding Scholar for 2011.
By Johnny Jackson
McDonough resident Jennifer Holcomb was recently named the Gordon College Outstanding Scholar for 2011.
She was recognized, along with 35 other students in the University System, by the Georgia General Assembly during its 2011 Academic Recognition Day.
The 22-year-old said she was shocked by the recognition.
"I am very, very honored and appreciative," Holcomb said. "I work very hard, and just a little bit of recognition of that work means a lot to me."
Holcomb explained her motivations to succeed in life are tied to overcoming some frightful childhood experiences.
She recalled the day her life took a major turn.
Holcomb said that on Oct. 30, 1997, at the age of nine, she was placed in the custody of the Henry County Department of Family and Children Services.
"I was terrified to death," she said. "I thought I had done something wrong."
It was the day before "trick-or-treating," and days before her birthday. She said it was also the last day she ever lived with her younger 6-year-old brother.
Holcomb said she and her siblings -- a younger sister and a younger brother -- were placed into the foster care system due to various issues in the home. She said she remained in foster care from 1997 to 2007, eventually graduating from the system as an adult.
"There was a day that I came to the realization that I wasn't going home," she said. "And I realized maybe that's not a bad thing, and my behavior changed. I am not a product of my situation, because your situation is what you make of it. You have to motivate yourself, first and foremost."
The student, who attends Gordon College in Barnesville, said her maturity, and positive choices in life, are due partly to her childhood experiences.
"I've been able to see so much," Holcomb said. ""Being able to meet so many different types of people, I really grew up quickly. I've never had an exact role model of someone I wanted to be like. But I've seen a lot of examples of who I do not want to be like."
Holcomb declared her goal, early on, was to buck the stereotype in which she was involuntarily cast.
"School has always been my main focus," Holcomb said. She said she graduated with honors from Luella High School in 2007, and began to pursue a career in law.
Holcomb joined the 190th Military Police Company based in Kennesaw, Ga., and began taking classes in criminal justice at Gordon College.
"Jennifer is a teacher's delight," said Elizabeth Watts Warren, assistant professor of sociology. "She readily admits that she enjoys school and does not shy away from challenging assignments. I can always count on her to bring a wealth of everyday experiences to whatever topic we are discussing, with candor and insight."
Holcomb expects to graduate in July and continue her studies at Kennesaw State University. She also plans to continue her service in the Georgia Army National Guard as a military police officer.
The guardsman said she is considering a career as a prosecutor, possibly in Family Court.
"I want to do something in the law field," Holcomb said. "One of my biggest inspirations is to bring about change and hopefully make a difference.
"I have the experience of being on the other side," she continued. "There's nothing more important than being able to relate to other people. No one can truly understand what you've gone through unless they've been in that same situation. I'm going to know how to make change."
Holcomb said she spent many years as a ward living at the non-profit A Friend's House in McDonough, and Noah's Ark Animal Rehabilitation Center and Children's Care Homes in Locust Grove.
As an adult, she occasionally volunteers at A Friend's House, and keeps in touch with her foster care sisters from Noah's Ark. She said she is considering becoming a foster care parent in the future.
Holcomb said her new goal is to become an inspiration to others, letting them know "there are some [from the foster care system] that are doing exceptionally well."