Georgia Gwinnett College

12/11/2023 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 12/11/2023 00:02

Like mothers, like son: GGC pre-law grad earns degree in honor of late mother, grandmother

Harrison Clark

If Tricia Nicole Burgess taught her son Harrison Clark one thing, it's resiliency. Burgess's work as a contract manager kept them moving around a lot: from Georgia to Ohio to Pennsylvania and back to Georgia. They never settled for long in one place until they landed in Dekalb County, Georgia, in 2011, where Clark and his younger brother Haiden finished out their young adult years.

Once settled in Georgia, Burgess began attending college to earn a bachelor's degree and ensure a more secure future for her two boys but passed away suddenly on Christmas Eve, 2012, when Clark was 13.

"She was a gifted artist with a profound love of photography and watching all sorts of shows like 'Law and Order,' 'Criminal Minds' and 'CSI: Miami,'" said Clark. "I give thanks to her for my compassion, my love and my will."

The brothers were taken in by their grandmother, Patsy Burgess, an Army veteran who worked for the Army Corps of Engineers. She became the second strong woman to instill her values in the boys.

"My grandmother was a hardworking, fiercely loving woman who, alongside my mother, urged me and my brother to use the hardship we've endured and turn it into something meaningful," said Clark. "My favorite quote of hers that used to drive me crazy when I was younger was, 'Bite the bullet.' I thank her for all the drive, determination, power and confidence I've gotten from her in the gene pool."

Clark graduated from Redan High School in 2016, determined to make something of himself to honor the two women who raised him. The only problem was, with all the turmoil in his life, his grades suffered and while he graduated, he didn't have a stellar GPA. College seemed out of the question, but one of his friends suggested he take a chance and apply to Georgia Gwinnett College.

Why not? He filled out the forms, sent them in and took a placement test. To his amazement, he was accepted.

"I was shocked but ecstatic," said Clark. "I now had a real chance to earn a college degree, like my mom always wanted. I started my journey at GGC in August 2018, and the rest is history!"

He started as an undecided major, but it didn't take long to discover what he wanted to do with his life. The television shows he'd watched with his mother led him to it.

"The one thing that I did know was that I wanted to do all I could to help people," said Clark. "After being introduced to the psychology degree program and School of Liberal Arts, I knew what I wanted to pursue. My motivations were largely reflective, and the phrase I often heard myself say was, 'I want to break the systemic creation of hardship for people and provide a level of support for those never before seen.'"

Soon after, he was introduced to the African American studies minor and the paralegal certification program. With the help and guidance from Lana McDowell, director of GGC's Integrative Studies program, and Ebony Gibson, director of GGC's African American studies minor, Clark was able to elevate his career aspirations to new heights by blending aspects of psychology, pre-law and African American studies.

"With this integrated degree, I feel confident I can help stop the perpetuation of hardship and inequity and help our society move towards more nuanced and contextualized approaches to bettering human life for all."

Clark said it's hard for him to pick a favorite thing from his time at GGC, but mentoring young men in the Elite Scholars program stands out.

"My mentee, JJ, was so inspired by me living my truth as a future legal professional that he decided to follow his dream of becoming a health care professional," said Clark. "So, my most cherished memory is of having that kind of impact on others, and their impact on me."

Clark said his time at GGC has been full of unexpected and enlightening experiences that have changed him in ways he could never have predicted.

"From the faculty and staff members engaging me in courses in new ways to the diverse and immense amount of student organizations that'll make an extrovert out of anyone, to the fantastic events that are hosted either in entirety or in collaboration with GGC departments, to the amount of care, passion, generosity and connectedness exhibited by all people on campus - GGC has cemented itself in my memories as a second home."

After graduation, Clark plans to pursue a juris doctorate and is studying to take the LSAT. He currently works as a legal assistant with Georgia Probate Lawyers based in Cumming, Georgia, and plans to become a case coordinator and paralegal within the firm.