Highland High Grad Iamanni Jackson Set to Soar, Heads to Stanford

Friday June 7, 2024

First-generation students, often referred to as “first-gens,” are college-bound individuals whose parents did not pursue higher education. This significant milestone represents a break from familial and often socio-economic traditions, symbolizing hope, perseverance, and the pursuit of greater opportunities. For many first-gens, the journey to higher education is fraught with unique challenges and triumphs. Below is one in a series of stories about Kern County first-gens as they embark on the next chapters of their lives.

To nominate someone for a story in this series, please reach out to communcations@kern.org

Iamanni Jackson, a recent graduate of Highland High School, is preparing to embark on an exciting new chapter at Stanford University this fall. With a deep passion for space travel and an impressive array of interests and talents, Jackson’s journey to one of the most prestigious universities in the world says a lot about her resilience and determination.

“I really love the idea of space travel and space in general,” she said. “It’s always so cool to learn about the other planets, stars, and elements out there.”

Iamanni Jackson.

This fascination with the cosmos and her interest in history and the arts paints a picture of a well-rounded and curious individual. Jackson is not only a scholar but also a musician, playing the viola, cello, and bass guitar and has participated in theater within the Bakersfield community.

But her path to Stanford has been with diversions. Financial instability has been a significant hurdle for her family for much of her life.  

“A lot of the time, I wondered where my next meal would be coming from, if I had enough money to pay for certain expenses at school, and if I would have a bed to sleep in,” she said.

She recalled that last summer and into the fall, as she began her senior year, were particularly tough. After Jackson’s family lost their home, she found herself sleeping on a relative’s floor, struggling to keep up with schoolwork.

“She’s just one of those special kids. She truly embodies everything that we are looking for in the world.”

— Joanne Barrick, Highland High School counselor

Iammani Jackson performs in a play.

“It was really hard for me to function at school during this time because I was often exhausted or in pain,” she said. “I felt myself losing a lot of motivation as time went on.”

Highland School Counselor Joanne Barrick says that Jackson could have found any number of excuses to quit but never has.  

“She’s just one of those special kids,” Barrick said. “She truly embodies everything that we are looking for in the world.”

Jackson leaned on services that are available to students who do not have a regular or adequate nighttime residence. The McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act provides support like school supplies, personal hygiene items, transportation, tutoring, and social-emotional supports, among others.

Despite her hardships, Jackson developed new time management skills early in her senior year and learned to seek help when needed. She had to adjust to a more transient schedule, and instead of doing homework outside of the school day, she used her lunch and spare class time to complete her work.

She began recognizing her limits and learned to delegate responsibilities in her various extra curriculars while also realizing the importance of saying “no thanks” to tasks that didn’t ignite her passion so she could focus her attention where it was needed most.

“I saw her blossom from a mild-mannered wallflower to TA-DA world here I come!” Barrick said. “She is going to light the world on fire.”

Stanford University ranks among the most competitive universities in the world with an acceptance rate of just 4 percent.

A Look Ahead

Choosing Stanford was fueled by Jackson’s specific academic interests and the supportive environment she found on campus. She said she was drawn to the campus’s tight-knit feel.

“The air was fresh, and the people were kind,” she said of a visit before her acceptance. “It just felt like a very safe space for people to express themselves, no matter what that looks like for them.”

She also fell in love with the university’s Astronautics Program, which none of the other universities she was accepted to offered. It was a natural fit. Jackson aspires to work as a Jet Propulsion Engineer for NASA and aims to earn a doctoral degree in Astronautics or Astrophysics. Her ultimate dream is to become an astronaut.

Barrick recalled Jackson’s enthusiasm when she returned from her Stanford visit.

“She got to launch a balloon and track it,” Barrick said. “She was so excited to find her new home.”

Jackson attributes her success to the strong support network of family, friends, teachers, and mentors like Barrick, who have stood by her through thick and thin.

“When times get tough, and it seems as though the assignments and activities will never end, it’s important to have people to lean on and guide you,” she said.

For other students facing challenges, Jackson offered this advice: “Remember that you are your younger self’s wildest dreams.”

It’s the mantra that has helped her stay motivated through difficult times.

By Robert Meszaros

By Robert Meszaros

Rob Meszaros is Director of Communications for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools, where he has served since 2012. In his role, Meszaros oversees media relations, internal and external communication strategies, publications, Marcom, branding, and multi-media content creation. Before joining KCSOS, Meszaros was the PIO for CSU Bakersfield and earlier worked for seven years at The Bakersfield Californian.