December 16, 2022

Graduate turns tragedy into triumph

“If I can be strong for anyone or anything, I can be strong for my son.”
BY: Paisley Boston
Photography: Brad Smith

Yashika Hayes of Clinton drew upon the loss of her family members to fuel her desire to complete a Hinds Community College degree that she plans to turn into entry into the nursing program.

Hayes graduated on Dec. 15 along with 850 other Hinds students in one of two ceremonies at the Muse Center on the Rankin Campus.

While at Hinds, Hayes was stricken with grief after losing her mother, grandmother and grandfather. “There were times when I wanted to give up, but the love that I have for my son, Lakodriean Johnson, and the thought of walking across the stage to receive my degree brought me joy. I was determined to finish what I had started,” Hayes said. “If I can be strong for anyone or anything, I can be strong for my son.”

Throughout her academic tenure at the college, she was encouraged to “stay the path” by listening to kind words from Joycelyn Washington, dean of students at Hinds’ Nursing/Allied Health Center. “Ms. Washington helped me to remain optimistic during difficult times; she has been with me since the beginning,” she said.

When asked to provide advice to other students who may face similar situations as hers, Hayes said, “Please do not allow yourself to get stuck in a place of darkness. If you keep going, you will prosper in the end, and whomever you lost along the way will still be proud of your accomplishments.”

Hinds awarded nearly 1,300 credentials as many students earned more than one credential.

In total, 123 students graduated cum laude with a grade point average of 3.2 to 3.59; 73 graduated magna cum laude with a grade point average of 3.6 to 3.99 and 11 graduated summa cum laude with a grade point average of 4.0.

Hinds President Dr. Stephen Vacik congratulated graduates on their accomplishments. “You’ve made it through late night study sessions, beyond early morning commutes, and past all the personal barriers that stood in your way,” he said. “You sit here today ready to move forward on your life’s journey, a journey that will be full of adventures, challenges, victories and probably even a few failures.”

Taia Gaskin of Clinton and president of SGA at the Rankin Campus served as the speaker. Her words of encouragement focused on the significance of preparation. “Prepare for a greater tomorrow, today,” Gaskin said. “Always remember to put your best foot forward no matter what path you are on.”

The Muse Center was packed as family and friends watched graduates cross the stage. Among those was Jay Wadsworth of Flowood, father of Hinds graduate Sophie Wadsworth. He said his daughter’s journey to Hinds was not ideal but worth it in the end.

“Before enrolling at Hinds, my daughter was a substance abuser,” Wadsworth said. “There were times when my wife and I would get phone calls in the middle of the night about Sophie being in drug houses or on the streets of Jackson.”

Above: Sophie Wadsworth of Flowood stands proudly with her family after receiving an associate degree on Dec. 15 at the Muse Center. With her, from left to right, are her mother, Susan Wadsworth of Flowood; daughter, 11-month-old Delilah Cranston; grandmother, Carol Montgomery and sister, Olivia Wadsworth, both of Flowood. Back row, from left, are her boyfriend, Hunter Cranston of Jackson and father, Jay Wadsworth of Flowood.

Wadsworth said the emotional strain of watching his daughter suffer also affected his marriage, but his love for his daughter would not allow him to give up on her. “One day, I decided to search for Sophie, and when I found her, she was in a house that was in deplorable condition,” he added. “Although she persistently rejected me, I picked her up, brought her home, and later drove her to a drug rehabilitation center near the Gulf Coast.”

She spent months in a rehabilitation center before returning home. Wadsworth said he did not know what else he could do to help his daughter continue her path of sobriety until one day, he saw an advertisement for Hinds and pitched her the idea of enrolling at the college.

“After two years and several months of heartache, my daughter has a degree, and I have a beautiful granddaughter. I thank God daily for giving me the strength to not give up on my daughter,” Wadsworth said.