For John Blessing, a Gainesville resident and student at the University of North Georgia, his own surname belies the many challenges he’s faced to achieve a college education.
Growing up in a lower-income family that moved between several rural towns, Blessing said it was hard to find stability at home.
“I’ve kind of been everywhere,” he said of his itinerant childhood. “I had given up – a lot.”
Blessing said he also struggled with homeschooling, and his religiously conservative upbringing did not mesh with his bisexual orientation.
But he has come to UNG and found a voice on the campus as the first in his family’s history to attend college.
“Halfway through my junior year (of high school), I realized college was my only way out,” he said.
More specifically, Blessing found his voice in political activism and interest in constitutional law.
“Growing up in the South, and being as I am, the best way to be able to defend that is by law,” he said.
And this interest has led Blessing to become a finalist for the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship, which awards up to $30,000 for prospective graduate students working toward a career in government and public service.
Blessing will graduate in December with a bachelor’s degree in history, then add a B.A. in political science, with a focus in pre-law, the following spring. He has maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout his time at UNG.
Blessing plans to enroll in law school, perhaps at Georgia State University, Stanford University or the University of Michigan, in the fall of 2020.
“Truman opens a lot of doors,” he said of the prospect of winning the scholarship.
One of approximately 200 finalists from across the nation, about 60 will be chosen in April for the scholarship award.
But Blessing has a way of shooting for the stars, and on his application for the scholarship, he proposed studying at Harvard.
“It was a bit of a reach, with a student from my background, but I said, ‘Let’s go for it!’” Blessing said. “You come from a background where you got a chip on your shoulder, and you say, ‘Watch me, watch me.’”
He just may have the bona fides as a self-starter to get there.
For example, Blessing taught himself how to apply for college through basic Internet searches.
And he’s already filling out applications and preparing for graduate-entry examinations, all while hosting clubs he founded on campus, such as the United Students Organization and Guild of Tabletop Gamers.
Blessing is also involved with The Spectrum Alliance, a campus group that brings together LGBTQ students.
And, of course, he’s been involved in campus political groups, such as the Politically Incorrect Club.
And while the club may have more conservative political members, Blessing said he enjoys debate. “I like to work with them,” he added. “We need to create that conversation. We have much more in common that we realize.”
Blessing describes himself as a champion of free speech.
“It’s something I’ve latched onto since I was young,” he said.
Blessing helped raise awareness about how discrimination was defined in UNG’s student code of conduct as “conduct and/or expressions that harass, demean, or degrade any individual or group of individuals who are members of a protected class.”
Changes were made to clarify UNG’s commitment to First Amendment rights following public criticism from a civil liberties advocacy group.
Though Blessing’s success is self-made in many ways, he said he’s been fortunate to have good mentoring at UNG, and encourages others from a similar background not to be afraid to ask for help.
“I don’t believe I’m the perfect model,” Blessing said.