KENNESAW, Ga. | Dec 11, 2020
Blake Gordon is graduating magna cum laude with his accounting degree from the Michael J. Coles College of Business and accepting a job offer from a prominent accounting firm. But his road to success was not always easy.
Gordon, 31, already had survived cancer, battled depression and undergone treatment following years of alcohol addiction prior to enrolling at Kennesaw State University in his late 20s. As a student, he also faced some financial hardships.
“Earning my degree means everything,” Gordon said. “Quite frankly, it’s been my greatest life accomplishment to date, not only to graduate from KSU amidst all of the circumstances and hurdles that I faced, but to do it with close to a 3.9 grade point average.”
The next step in Gordon’s journey will be working in the Atlanta office of a national accounting firm, starting in January. He will begin as an intern and transition to a tax associate position in the spring, progressing toward his goal of becoming a certified public accountant.
Gordon accepted the job back in February, but, like so many other people, he wasn’t sure what the future would hold once the pandemic hit. At the time, he was living on campus, taking advanced accounting courses and interning with a local firm during the busy tax season, but coronavirus protocols required him to move back home to Alabama in March and take classes online for the rest of spring and the summer. He returned to campus this fall and completed his degree through a combination of online and in-person courses – with his job offer remaining intact.
“There was a lot of uncertainty associated with COVID-19: What is life going to look like? Is my job offer going to hold up? What is the job market going to look like?” Gordon said. “However, you use it to fuel your motivation to succeed. You continue to put one foot in front of the other and make the next right decision, focus on your goals and aspirations, and not become a product of your circumstances.”
That is the same mindset Gordon had adopted when he moved to the Atlanta suburbs to get a fresh start after going through rehabilitation for an alcohol use disorder. He had no idea at the time how life-changing a decision he had made to move into a sober-living residence just down the road from Kennesaw State University.
Gordon learned about KSU’s Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery (CYAAR), and thought it was just what he needed once he had been sober for a year and was ready to tackle attending college. He credits his involvement with CYAAR for helping him feel at home and thrive at Kennesaw State.
“That program has been my rock, my foundation,” Gordon said. “Everybody has gone through similar circumstances, so you know that you’re not alone. Without that program, I don’t know if I would have the same outcome as I do today.”
Gordon was a near-daily fixture at the CYAAR office, whether he was seeking advice from staff members, participating in programs or spending time with other students in recovery. He continued to stay in contact with his fellow students during the pandemic, through the programs and services CYAAR offered virtually.
Along with his support network, Gordon is one of several students to receive financial assistance from CYAAR scholarships. Through the generous support of several donors, the Center for Young Adult Addiction and Recovery has awarded $68,000 in scholarships for the current academic year, according to CYAAR Executive Director Teresa Johnston.
“The financial support from CYAAR is life-changing. They say, ‘We’re going to keep the dream alive for you,’” Gordon said. “I went from thinking, ‘This is extremely difficult and I don’t know if I can do this,’ to, ‘This gave me the confidence that I needed and I know that I’m going to do this no matter what life throws at me.’”
While his days as a Kennesaw State student are complete, Gordon plans to remain close to the community that has meant so much to him. Wherever his career takes him, Gordon wants to remain actively involved in supporting CYAAR.
“I want to be that mentor to somebody who has struggled with the same thing that I have,” he said. “One thing for certain is that I want to give back as much as I can to this program that has given me everything.”
– Paul Floeckher
Photos by Jason Getz
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.