Written by: Jill Lees, O’Neill IUPUI MPA’22, Graduate Certificate Public Management’06, and chief of police for Indiana University Police Department-Bloomington
When I was in high school in Hammond, Indiana, I never would have believed anyone who told me I would attend and graduate from Indiana University. With barely any money in my pocket, I left home for Bloomington in 1991 to fulfill my dream of attending IU and joining the Indiana University Police Department cadet officer program.
In 1995, I graduated as a first-generation college student with a B.A. in criminal justice and was honored to have served IUPD from 1993 to 1995 as a cadet officer. Fast forward years later, I went back to the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs at IUPUI to earn a graduate certificate in public management in 2006. I always wanted to earn an MPA, but I decided to take a long break from school as I worked long hours as a police officer and raised my son.
In 2019, I was hired as the chief of police for IUPD and thought to myself, “It’s now or never.” In the summer of 2020, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, I decided to enroll in the MPA program at O’Neill IUPUI and finish what I started.
I am so excited to graduate in May 2022 with an MPA, and I am incredibly proud to be affiliated with the O’Neill School. I was appointed to the Distinguished Alumni Council in 2020 and, in 2021, I received the Elite 50 Award from IUPUI. This year, I was selected to be a member of the Public Affairs National Honor Society, Pi Alpha Alpha.
Most importantly, I just received a first-generation pin. My graduation this year reminds me again of how I have always valued lifelong learning, and how my parents always encouraged me to grow personally and professionally.
No matter how hard it was to attend classes in Indianapolis, serve as the chief of IUPD-Bloomington, and lead during a pandemic, I never gave up and never quit. You really can achieve your goals and dreams if you work hard and are determined to succeed.
I assure you there are so many different stories of students who are first-generation graduates. I want to acknowledge and honor all of the students who were the first in their families to enroll at IUPUI and all Indiana University campuses, who had to work hard to figure out how to navigate their studies and college life, and who made their families proud to be able to graduate with a degree.
I know we all did not achieve that alone. It took so much support from the IU campus community, including our academic advisors, professors, classmates, and many others. Congratulations to all IUPUI graduates, my O’Neill classmates, and especially my fellow first-generation classmates. This is a huge accomplishment, and I wish you all the best!