Jessica-Lynn Maloney had long been looking forward to Saturday, when she was due to receive her diploma from Bridgewater State University. She expected that walking across that stage, after more than 10 years of juggling her studies with a full-time job and a young family, would be a joyful occasion she’d long remember.
However, Ms. Maloney almost didn’t attend commencement. Last Sunday, her husband Jose Lopes was killed in a motorcycle accident on Route 93 in Boston. Suddenly, her special day was clouded by heartbreak; her life turned upside down.
It was only at the urging of her professors, friends and family that she forced herself to attend Saturday’s morning commencement ceremony.
“It was sad because he wasn’t there,” the Boston native said of her late husband. “I wanted my kids to be close so I could feel like he was kind of there.”
Indeed, sitting up front were Ms. Maloney’s two sons, Jiovani, 11; and Jacobi, 4. They were easy to spot: Each wore a specially made shirt bearing a picture of their late father. Her husband’s brother and best friend, Ray Lopes, was also in attendance.
Ms. Maloney graduated cum laude with a degree in biology. It was nearly 15 years ago that she enrolled at Roxbury Community College and began studying biology in hopes of one day getting a job in medicine. She knew there was a long road ahead of her: She’d dropped out of high school at 16.
Mr. Lopes was a native of Cape Verde and a U.S. veteran. He grew up in Hanson and had ridden motorcycles for 35 years. Friends described him as “a class act.” He was 16 years older than his wife, whom he met when she was 17. They dated and fell in love. Ms. Maloney credits him with helping her to move from a third-floor apartment on the tough side of Brockton. Over the years, the couple built a life together, and Ms. Maloney, now 33, found work at the Brockton Neighborhood Health Center, where she still works today.
“We had a lot of history together,” she said. “I loved the man and I have two beautiful children with him.”
When she went back to school her husband had to take on more hours at Boston Sand and Gravel, and take on a larger role raising their children.
“There was a lot of adjustment and sacrifices on both our parts,” she said.
Ms. Maloney began realizing dividends from attending college while at Roxbury. The school helped her find an internship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Department of Materials Science and Engineering. She earned her associate’s degree in 2008, and transferred to Bridgewater State in 2016.
Ms. Maloney shares the story of her climb from dropout to cum laude graduate to show that no matter the amount of adversity one is facing, hard work can go a long way in overcoming it.
“I want people to know that even through the most difficult of struggles that if there’s a will there’s a way,” she said. “I have put so much energy and blood, sweat and tears into this and to finally hear my name and to graduate with the grades I got, it’s nothing short of a miracle. It was a tough, tough road and I know my husband would have been proud of me.”
Now facing the prospects of being a single mom with two growing boys to support, Ms. Maloney knows more challenges lie ahead. She’s not about to throw her hands up and surrender: She plans to begin a master’s program so she can realize her ultimate goal of becoming a physician’s assistant.
But first, she must bury her husband. Jose Lopes will be laid to rest in Hanson on Tuesday, with full military honors.
(Story by John Winters, G’11, University News; photos by Katherine Brown, an administrative assistant in University Advancement, who also uncovered this story)