MEET OUR GRADUATES: Deprived of an Education at a Young Age, Now Graduating at 57

Jacqueline Posing

“I hope my story encourages all young people to attend school and keep on going,” says Jacqueline Lawson.

Born on the island of Jamaica, Jacqueline (Millie) Lawson, the eldest of 11 siblings, had to leave high school because her mother could no longer afford it.

At age 15, she began working to help support the family and shouldered the responsibility of caring for her younger siblings. 

“I was able to sponsor one of my sister’s and one of my brother’s high school education,” she says. “For me, it was a joy to see my siblings attain what I was not able to. If you ask me now, ‘Would you do it again?’ I would say yes in a heartbeat.”

In 1989, at the age of 20, Lawson embarked on a new chapter in her life by immigrating to the United States to work as a nanny. She served various families in the New England area, eventually settling in New York City, where she worked with a family for 24 years.

“We moved around often, finally landing in Rhode Island,” she says. “Once the children were grown and I wasn’t needed as a nanny any longer, I found a job as a preschool assistant at the David C. Isenberg Family Early Childhood Center in Providence. I was 46 years old.” 

Because the center requires all preschool assistants to be CDA certified, Lawson enrolled at CCRI at age 47 to earn an associate degree in early childhood education. She also became certified. 

At age 51, encouraged by her husband to continue her education, Lawson enrolled at Rhode Island College to earn her B.S. in early childhood education. This would enable her to become a lead teacher at the center.

Lawson’s advisor, RIC Professor of Elementary Education Leslie Sevey, met with her several times before she began classes, motivating her to continue her education in the field.

“Millie is a student who works very hard and is committed to her chosen field,” says Sevey. “She is always positive and supportive of her fellow students, and her focus is always on how she can improve her knowledge about early care and education as well as her skills as an educator. She is passionate about advocating for issues impacting her field, such as access to quality care for all children and equitable wages for educators. I see great things for Millie’s future as an early care and education professional.”  

During her internship at the Rhode Island Association for the Education of Young Children (RIAEYC), Lawson worked with several key leaders at RIAEYC and testified several times at the State House for better wages for early childhood educators.

“From these experiences, I realized that I wanted to continue down the road of advocacy,” she says. “Rhode Island College not only opened my eyes to this new direction in my life, it opened up so many opportunities for advocacy for me.”

“I’ve communicated with several state senators and representatives as well as senators in Washington DC about increased wages for early childhood educators,” Lawson says. “Along the way, I’ve met other advocates, who, like me, are passionate about this work.”

Lawson joined the Delta Kappa Pi honor society in education, as well, one of the largest and most prestigious honor societies. With this membership, she has access to networking opportunities, community engagement, national/regional conferences and up-to-date information in the field of education.

“I hope my story encourages all young people to attend school and keep on going,” she says. “Never give up. Learning is something that we should all ascribe to. I am graduating at 57 years old, and it feels great.”