Carleton University has a special place in Jessica Jackson Clement’s heart – it’s where she succeeded.
As the 33-year-old Aboriginal student prepared for her spring graduation, she reflected on the length of her journey and her path to the future.
“It’s been a long journey and it’s been a great journey,” says Clement, who is picking up a bachelor degree in social work at spring Convocation. “Earning this degree has helped me shine as a First Nations woman.
“Carleton has given me the education I need. They have given me the opportunity to express my feelings. They have made me self-aware. And they have given me the tools to practise as a social worker.”
In fact, Clement has already been hired by Minwaashin Lodge, an Aboriginal women’s support centre in Ottawa, as a manager and sexual abuse counsellor. She landed the job the day she wrote her last exam.
“I love my job,” she says. “I work with First Nations, Métis and Inuit women who are suffering the effects of colonization, who are suffering the effects of the residential school system and who are victims of domestic and other forms of violence.”
Clement’s path to success, while at times filled with uncertainty, began with her graduation from high school. After earning several diplomas in correctional services, police foundations, social services and home care, she finally enrolled in Carleton’s Aboriginal Enriched Support Program (AESP) in 2013. The program helps Aboriginal students qualify for a degree during a one-year transition program. Her mentor and coaches guided her in the positive direction she needed and she was able to register in the social work program with a clear goal in mind.
“AESP got me through,” Clement explains. “They showed me I could do university work. They showed me a path to take. I discovered who I wanted to be and I was guided into social work. I wanted to help First Nations, Métis and Inuit people and I saw the way I could do that was by getting my education.”
Clement, who is part Cree and Algonquin, is herself a survivor of the intergenerational impacts of colonization and trauma.
“My grandmother was in a residential school in Quebec and my grandfather was adopted out of his reserve and his family by an abusive non-Indigenous man. They both suffered physical, emotional, sexual and spiritual abuse and they turned to alcohol to cope with the trauma, which affected their children. Now I want to end the vicious cycle in my generation, and help heal my family and my people. Of course, that will be step-by-step, but if I can get through to one person, I will have done my work. I want to help people who have suffered like my family suffered.”
Clement’s years at Carleton helped her realize who she was as a First Nations woman, as well as what she wanted to do with her life. In the longer term, after she has had a chance to practise her skills and gain experience in her field, she hopes to return to Carleton to pursue a master’s degree in social work.
“The day I received an e-mail granting my degree was an emotional day for me, a very proud moment. And I thank my professors who took the time to help me grow as an individual.”