A graduation story: Tracey Sanders’ path to JSU was a 30-year journey

Tracey Sanders

Tracey Sanders

Turn to the inside back cover of Tracey Sanders’ 1981 high school yearbook, and you’ll find these words in a teenager’s scrawl:  “I Love Dear Ole JSU. I’m hoping to attend Jackson State University and major in Early Childhood Education and minor in cosmetology. Look out JSU. Here I come!!!”

Sanders made it to JSU, but it took her 30 years.

During those three decades, she briefly enrolled at Delta State University, married her high school sweetheart, traversed two continents, raised three daughters, cared for an ailing mother and went to work for the Head Start Program in her hometown of Cleveland, Miss.

“I’ve been around the world. I saw President Obama inaugurated both times. I’ve gone places and seen so many things, but nothing will compare to the day I get my degree from JSU,” says Sanders, who’ll receive her bachelor’s degree in Early Childhood Development during JSU’s commencement exercises on Dec. 13.

“I give all honor and praise to God to have that right mind to pursue one of the goals I wanted to accomplish in life. I just want to cry. My mama is not here to see me graduate. I know she would’ve been proud,” says Sanders, whose mother died in 2002.

Sanders’ desire for that JSU degree never waned; it was just temporarily blunted. Life always seemed to take her in another direction.

“After I graduated from high school, I became afraid to leave home. I was attached to my parents and grandmother. I attended Delta State in Cleveland. Then, I got married. My husband played pro basketball for the South American and European professional leagues,” Sanders says.  “When I came back to the states, I was expecting. My husband and I got jobs.  And, I set about raising my children.”

Her husband, Robert Sanders, says he can still remember how his wife frequently talked about returning back to the states and going to Jackson State. She became enamored with the campus while she was a junior in high school. Her basketball coach had taken the team there for a visit. After that, Tracey Sanders knew JSU was the place she wanted to be.

Robert Sanders says the graduation will be a long awaited milestone for the entire family, which includes daughters, Krystal, Brittany and Alexis.

11-07-13-11“We’ve been married for 27 years, and at the age of 50, to see this actually materialize, it just puts a capital ‘S’ on success,” says Robert Sanders, who is the chief of police for Mississippi Valley State University.

The couple had lived in Jackson before Tracey Sanders and her daughters returned to Cleveland for a few years to care for her mother, who had been diagnosed with lung cancer. For six years, she was her mother’s caretaker.

After her mother’s death, Tracey Sanders and the girls returned to Jackson, where her husband had been living and working as sergeant at arms for the Mississippi State Senate.  Soon, it was time for her oldest daughter, Krystal, to decide where she would attend college. She chose Jackson State. At least, Tracey Sanders thought, she could live out her JSU dream vicariously through her daughter.

Krystal Sanders-Pierce says she had the ultimate college experience at JSU. She was Miss Sophomore, junior class vice president, Miss Senior, Miss Baptist Student Union, a member of the Blue Key Honor Society and Chi Alpha Epsilon.

Sanders-Pierce earned a bachelor’s in Business Administration in 2008 and a master’s in Technology in 2010.

“When I graduated, my mom expressed her interest in fulfilling her lifelong dream of attending JSU. I could not have been happier,” Sanders-Pierce says. “I honestly do not believe that there is any school comparable to that of my JSU, and I do not believe that there is an individual more deserving than my mother.”

Sanders’ decision to further her education was based, in large part, on a Head Start mandate that half of the program’s teachers have a bachelor’s degree. At the time, Sanders only had an associate’s degree from Coahoma Community College.

This was Sanders’ chance to finally get to JSU, but she was discouraged by the thought of commuting from Cleveland, where she and Robert had returned.  She opted for JSU’s online program.

“Mississippi Valley is a 30-minute drive from my home. But I didn’t want to work all day and drive at night Monday through Thursday. That was too much for me,” Sanders says.

Her JSU experience has been vastly different than her daughter’s, but Sanders doesn’t mind.

“I’ve had the campus life at another school. Doing the online program has been great. I’ve become more computer literate. The first thing I do every day is to check my grades,” she says. “Now that I’ve reached this goal, I may be heading back online for a master’s degree in teaching.”

 Shelia Byrd




  1. Maliik G Omari says:

    Congratulations! Your story encourages many others like yourself aspiring to graduate. I am so proud of you!

  2. Fred Aldridge says:

    Congratulations! This is truly a great accomplishment.

  3. O'Dell White says:

    Congratulation Mrs. Tracey Sanders on accomplishing your dream. I also went back to JSU after 30 years and fulfilled mine. I received my degree this past August (2013) and I came back to Jackson to march across the stage in December to show my children and others that it’s never to late. I was an out of state student from Chicago back then, but had to leave for personal reasons with one semester short of having my degree. I still reside in Chicago but I was able to finish my degree through the online program. I also praise and thank God everyday for allowing me to accomplish this and for having the support of my wife,children and parents. Once again Tracey Congratulations !! “It Is No Secret What God Can Do Because You Are A Conqueror”

  4. Richard says:

    Congratulations Mrs. Sanders, JSU is a wonderful place and I am so glad you never gave up on your dream of getting that degree from JSU.

  5. Collins K. Lanyuy PhD says:

    Congratulations Dr. Giles. I am so proud of you. You worked very hard for this degree and deserve every praise. I know how it feels. Enjoy it and strive for higher heights.
    Kudos once again.

  6. Jacquie says:

    Congrats! I enjoyed reading your story and I do believe in following your DREAMS!! Continue your Educations and REACH FOR THE STARS!!

  7. Brittney Bowman says:

    Congratulations!! The informations that you exposed for the world to read about your life has just inspired me to keep soaring toward my goals. I have no doubt that if you can do it at the age of 50, then there is no excuse for me as a young woman.

  8. Sharita L. Giles, PhD says:

    Congratulations Tracey!!!! You have shown all that it is never to late to accomplish a goal once you set your mind and heart to it. Thank you for opening the doors for me to share my story. Also, thank you and Robert for providing guidance and a place for me to stay on my journey. I thank God that he strategically place you and your family in my life. You are my big sister and I love you!

  9. Andrea says:

    Mrs. Sanders,
    You are so very deserving. Congratulations! I pray you are blessed as you continue to be a blessing to others!

  10. Juno Leggette Jacobs says:

    Hello Mrs. Sanders:

    I am so proud of you for “makin’ it happen” at JSU. Awesome story!!!

    Juno Leggette Jacobs

  11. Constance Barnes says:

    I have always admired and looked up to Krystal, whom I refer to as my “big sis,” and it is clearly evident from where both her spiritual/physical beauty, hard work, and determination arose. Congratulations, Mrs. Sanders! You deserve it! May the Lord continue to lay his hands upon you and your family.

  12. Stevenson Prescott says:

    Congratulations, Mrs. Sanders. This is a great story. It just proves what many Clevelanders already know. You and your family are a great asset to this community.

  13. Lynedda says:

    I would like to say that this article was very touching and inspirational. Congratulations to my play momma/friend that I love and wish you the very best! We did it momma, now our day has come to walk the stage and receive our Bachelors Degree.

  14. Tonya Barton says:

    Congratulations! Dreams really do come true…. Keep the faith and never give up on you!

  15. Kamyra T says:

    The inspiritation I need to return and get started on my Masters. I’ve been putting it off for years. 13 to be exact. Thanks and welcome to the ranks. Class of 2000

  16. Jermal Boddie says:

    To my big sister/mama I am so happy for yo u don’t stop now!!!! We going to party friday!! I will be there with bells on God is awesome!!!

  17. Robert Bell says:

    Inspiring! I’m going to return and finish at Jackson Fair, Jackson Dear!!!

  18. LaTanyia says:

    That is “story” not “sorry”. I didnt want to rewrite all over. ‘

  19. LaTanyia says:

    Wishing you many blessings and congratulations. Your sorry brought tears to my eyes. (joyful and happy for you) I can feel your strive cause I am also in pursue of my long time dreams to recieve my degree from JSU. I moved to Ms in 1999 and Jackson State was the only school that caught my attention. I started in 2002 and the devil tried to attack every which way so I had to put it on hold in 2007. I have returned this Fall 2013, to complete my dreams and desire of my late mother and father who died a week a part that I finish school. I know my parents will be smiling down on me that day so I know your mom is also smiling and rejoicing. Not to take the spotlight off of you but you inspire me to push harder. Knowing all things are possible with God. God Bless You on achieving your Masters. Go Tigers!!

  20. Sequica James says:

    Congrats Ms. Sanders. I am proud of you. Tell Krystal, and Britt that I said Hi. Trojans and Tigers for life!!

  21. Congratulations to you! From what I have read, you are a very determined, deserving, and dynamic individual. Be blessed in all of your future endeavors!

  22. Andrea Davis-Turner says:

    Congratulations Tracey!!!!! It doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there as long as you get there! I am so happy and proud of and for you! You are an amazing mother, wife and person, whom God has blessed of his smallest angels with your love and nurturing. You have and will always be a wonderful inspiration!

  23. Audrey Jackson says:

    CONGRATULATION!!! My Sissy… I’m SOOOooooo Proud of You…. What A Great Way To Set The Tone To Let Others Know Never To Give Up On Your Dreams Because You Are Proof, ” Dreams Do Come To Reality!!! ” WOW!!! An Awesome Story on You… But How did you leave Me, Your Sister out!!!! TOOoooo Hilarious…. I”ll Be There also with My Valley State/ Grren & White On…..

  24. Jerrica Frierson says:

    Mrs. Sanders,
    My mom away from home, I am SOOOOOOOOOO proud of you! You have been such a blessing in my life and I pray that this accomplishment opens many doors for you and your future. Love you much!

  25. Sharron Mason says:

    Congratulations! Mrs. Sanders.
    My name is Sharron Mason. I work with your daughter (Krystal) in Purchasing at the City of Plano. I hope to meet you soon.

  26. Nicole Richardson says:

    From on Alumi to next great job.

  27. Renae Evans says:

    I want to say Congratulations to my sister (always) my daughter’s aunt tracey sanders on for filling your life long dream.sending much love to you and the family this is truly a celebration for all of you.I know Mrs Emma Jean Boddie & Mrs Mamie Brown are looking down on you with a smile.

  28. Sharon McCray-Smith says:

    Congrats to my cousin/sister…you ROCK! I am so proud of you until I’m about to burst. You are one of the most loving, giving people I know. Sorry Inaya and I can’t be there with you but know we will be thinking of you and celebrating from the Chi! We love you more than words can ever express! Love your cousin/sister, Sharon and niece Inaya

  29. Kimberley Boddie-Proctor says:

    Way to go Tracey! You are the best. I will be at the graduation with bells and whistles. You’ll be able to see and hear me. I’ll be there with my Grambling Tiger’s Black and Gold colors! I love you. Your sister, Kim

  30. Andrell says:

    I love this family! I’m so proud of you Mrs. Sanders.

  31. Kristin Stewart says:

    Congratulations Mrs. Sanders! You’re such an inspiration! God bless.

  32. Krystal Sanders-Pierce says:

    Congratulations Mom!!! We are sooo very ecstatic for you!! Sheila Byrd, I can not verbalize how grateful we are for such an amazing follow up story on my mom. I love my JSU!!!!

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