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Katrina & cancer survivor graduates from UALR

Saturday, a Hurricane Katrina and cancer survivor, who once lived in a car with his mother, beat the odds and became the first person in his family to earn a four-year degree.
LITTLE ROCK, AR - Saturday, a Hurricane Katrina and cancer survivor, who once lived in a car with his mother, beat the odds and became the first person in his family to earn a four-year degree.

The UALR graduate shared his story with us, and says he wouldn't be where he is today without the support of his mother and step-father.

"I never had a family, full family, so this is where I made it," says UALR graduate Ross Jackson.

Jackson has beaten the odds several times.

"When I was 9, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor," he said. "My biological father on Thanksgiving Day when I was 13 just decided that he was going to take off. He wasn't comfortable with my circumstances, with his own circumstances with me being African-American and with both of my parents being biologically Caucasian it was a recessive gene that skipped."

At 13, Jackson dropped out of school. In 2005, he and his mother lost their home.

"I had her, she had me and that's all we were concerned about. The only living requirement that we required was a car," says Jackson.

Weeks before Hurricane Katrina hit, surgeons successfully removed Jackson's brain tumor, but facing the challenge of living in a car during the hurricane, he and his mother evacuated New Orleans.

Jackson re-enrolled in school in northern Louisiana and, six months later, moved to Hot Springs where he fell in love with acting and decided to pursue a stage management career at UALR.

"I didn't have a very organized and stable life, so this is how I create it," he says.

Meanwhile, his mother fell in love with his step-dad.

"She had been alone for a long time, and it's my step-dad that I have to thank for making her happy," he says.

"Regardless of how hard things get, they always find joy and they always find love," says step-dad Tom Kelly.

"He's the man that I look up to. He's given me a male role model to look up to," says Jackson.

Now, these proud parents will send jackson off for the next chapter in his life.

"I work hard on him to make him the man he is. I'm so happy for you," says mother Cricket Kelly.

"I love you mama. We came a long way, huh?" asked Jackson.

"Yup, we sure did," she replied.

Next, Jackson plans on pursuing his Master's Degree at the University of California Irvine in stage management. He will then become the first person in his family to have a graduate degree.
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