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Father, son make good on handshake promise and graduate together

During last month’s ceremonies of Liberty University’s 51st Commencement, there were 69 parent-child pairs who turned their tassels together. For Henry Jackson III and his son, Henry IV, 13, of Austell, Ga., their journey to Commencement also began with a symbolic gesture.

Four years ago, at the age of 9, the younger Henry expressed a desire to earn his high school diploma by the time he turned 14 — and his father encouraged him to do so. So they shook on it.

“For a child to come to a parent and say, ‘I’ve got a goal,’ it’s a big deal,” Jackson said. “For him to say — without any pressure or prompting — that he wanted to graduate before his 14th birthday, I was impressed. I knew that it was a big responsibility and that it would take a collaborative effort on his part as well as my part, and so I turned to my wife, and I said, ‘This is a moment. Grab the camera.’”

In a symbolic moment of commitment to this goal, Henry shook his father’s hand as his mother, Vanessa, took a photo.

At age 9, Henry Jackson IV shook his father’s hand to mark his commitment to complete high school before turning 14.

“In our family, a handshake means something, and so I said, ‘Hey, let’s shake on it, and when we shake on it, I’m committing to be encouraging to you when you feel burnt out and to give you any type of support you need,’” Jackson said. “And he was shaking, committing to doing what it takes.”

Jackson was pursuing his Ph.D. in Christian Leadership through Liberty University Online Programs at the time, and after seeing the quality of the education and the supportive environment, he looked into Liberty University Online Academy, Liberty’s fully online K-12 program.

“I fell in love with Liberty. Even at the highest ranks of academia, I saw the professors walking the walk and talking the talk, and I was blown away by it,” Jackson said. “I had never experienced a quality of education that balanced my biblical worldview with industry knowledge. It fit the mantra perfectly of Training Champions for Christ. I felt like I wanted my son to experience this too, so it was a no-brainer to transfer him to Liberty University Online Academy.”

Henry was already advanced in his studies, having taken high school courses through another online program. He enrolled in Liberty University Online Academy as a 12th grader, while his father completed his doctoral coursework down the hall.

“I worked from home, and I was studying from home too, so I was within earshot of (Henry’s) room across the hall, hearing the kind of things that he was learning,” Jackson said. “I thought it was amazing that that same quality education and that same biblical mindset was happening at the K-12 level as in my program.”

“I had a good time in the program, a really great overall experience,” his son added. “The teachers were good, I enjoyed what I learned, and I’m glad I took the opportunity.”

Jackson completed his Ph.D. in December and Henry completed his in May. When they learned that Liberty invited all of its online graduates, including LUOA, to participate in separate degree presentation ceremonies as well as the Main Commencement Ceremony, they decided to make their first visit to Liberty Mountain and don their regalia together.

“It was just a great experience to be a part of (Commencement),” said Henry, who was one of 1,276 Liberty University Online Academy graduates in the Class of 2024. “We got to (explore) the campus a little bit while we were there with some family. It really did feel special that it lined up perfectly that we graduated around the same time and got to (participate in Commencement) together.”

“When I think back to our journey, (Henry) was as much of an inspiration to me as I was trying to be to him,” his father added. “As I was drudging through my dissertation and things like that, anytime I wanted to slack off, I would walk by his room and see him working on his goal. And then there we were, sitting by each other during the (Main Ceremony). We worked hard together, and then we were able to celebrate together, and that was probably one of my top three moments in life to this point.”

In August, Henry plans to begin courses in Liberty University’s online B.S. in English and Writing – Creative Writing program, with hopes of pursuing a career as a filmmaker.

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