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‘Finish what you started:’ JSU grad honors deceased mom, earns degree after 31 years

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Ira Vaughn, 54, graduated from Jackson State University with his Bachelor of Science in professional interdisciplinary studies. It has been 31 years since Vaughn was last enrolled at the HBCU, and Friday, Dec. 9, he walked the stage as a member of the fall 2022 graduating class. He is currently the general manager at Half Shell Oyster House in Flowood, Miss. (William H. Kelly III/JSU University Communications)

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Ira Vaughn, 54, graduated from Jackson State University with his Bachelor of Science in professional interdisciplinary studies. It has been 31 years since Vaughn was last enrolled at the HBCU, and Friday, Dec. 9, he walked the stage as a member of the fall 2022 graduating class.

“This is a monumental experience and it feels great,” said Vaughn, who is the general manager of Half Shell Oyster House in Flowood, Mississippi.

Vaughn was a head drum major and member of the Sonic Boom of the South Marching Band when he was enrolled at Jackson State University in the 80s.

Vaughn was a head drum major and member of the Sonic Boom of the South Marching Band when he was enrolled at Jackson State University in the 80s. (William H. Kelly III/JSU University Communications)

His inspiration to return to college stems from his mother who succumbed to cancer in 2021. While undergoing chemotherapy, she asked her son, “Baby, why don’t you finish what you started?”

Vaughn says he immediately started the process to re-enroll at JSU. “Because she said that to me, I actually got in contact with someone at JSU, and that’s what started this journey last year to go back to school,” Vaughn said.

His first semester of school was met with tragedy. Vaughn’s mother passed away shortly after he returned to continue his academic journey at JSU.

“It would have been easy to quit again, but I remember her saying, ‘finish what you started,’” he said.

This wasn’t the first time Vaughn was met with loss. In the fall of 1988, during his sophomore year at JSU, his father became ill and died. Clouded by grief, the then business management major took the remaining semester off. When he attempted to return the following spring, he realized he had lost his scholarship.

Vaughn became a part-time student while working to pay for classes. He maintained enough credit hours to continue being the head drum major for JSU’s Sonic Boom of the South Marching Band.

This pattern continued for a few years. Ultimately, Vaughn dropped out of college and moved to Memphis in 1990.

“I’ve had many struggles in life, but as you fail, you learn, and I have learned a lot,” he said.

Vaughn celebrates as the orchestra plays 'Get Ready' at fall 2022 commencement. (Charles A. Smith/JSU University Communications)

Vaughn celebrates as the orchestra plays ‘Get Ready’ at the fall 2022 commencement. (Charles A. Smith/JSU University Communications)

Vaughn’s interest in interdisciplinary studies was sparked, in part, by his 32 years in management. The curriculum allowed Vaughn, now a non-traditional student, to keep the majority of his credits earned years ago, which was a win.

“This has been the best feeling I’ve had in a long time about earning a degree — knowing that I finished and didn’t quit when I could have. To achieve this accomplishment means everything,” said Vaughn, surrounded by friends and family. “To share this moment with my mom’s sisters is pretty big, too.”

Vaughn even flew his aunt in from California so she could be present as he honored his mom by completing her request and attaining his bachelor’s degree.

Vaughn has been employed at Half Shell for seven years and as general manager for six years. The entrepreneur also owns the Unique Class of Limousine company.

After retirement, Vaughn plans to continue his career in the corporate sector relocating with his wife, Hope Vaughn, and focus on his philanthropy efforts to JSU, the Sonic Boom of the South, the University’s lifelong learning program, and athletics.

The newly crowned JSU alum thanks his wife, kids, family, and staff for their support and dedication.

“This achievement has come with many sacrifices. My family has been on my side the entire time. They’ve been through this journey with me. So it’s a degree that we all appreciate.”