NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – When Jerry Priddy heard his name called at Tennessee State University’s spring commencement, the 48-year-old double amputee looked to the stands of Hale Stadium for his inspiration: his mother.
“She’s my rock, my role model,” said Priddy, one of hundreds of undergraduate students who participated in TSU’s May 7 commencement.
Priddy said in an interview before the ceremony that his mother, Georgianna Priddy, has been the main motivation behind him finishing school despite his health challenges.
“A single mom, she worked two jobs for more than 40 years to take care of me and my sister,” said Priddy, who has diabetes and is on a kidney transplant list. “She found a way; she never quit. When I get my degree, I’m going to place it in her hand.”
Priddy started at TSU in 1985, but at the time he said he was working over 40 hours a week while also taking 18 credit hours a semester. “Something had to give,” he said, and he decided to take a break from school.
“I figured I was going to leave for a couple of years, and then I’d be back,” he said. “But it never happened like that. Life took a different turn.”
Priddy was soon diagnosed with diabetes. He managed the disease for a while, but then complications resulted after he was bitten by a brown recluse spider. He eventually had to have both legs amputated below the knee.
But that didn’t stop Priddy from trying to reach his ultimate goal. In 2014, he re-enrolled at TSU and continued his pursuit of a music degree with a concentration in voice. A singer and lover of all types of music, Priddy said gospel songs resonate with him the most because “they relate to whatever I’m going through,” adding that “Marvelous,” by singer Walter Hawkins is among his gospel favorites.
“God has done some marvelous things for me,” Priddy said, “like allowing me to come back to school and finish what I started.”
Priddy’s sister, Michelle Vaughn, said her brother’s desire to finish school played a role in her decision to return to TSU. In December, she and her daughter both received degrees in psychology.
“I think it’s phenomenal what he’s doing,” said Vaughn, who works in TSU’s library. “It says that if you really want to do something, you can do it.”
Vaughn added that, like her brother, she also received motivation from her mother.
“That’s just something that she wanted for us,” said Vaughn, referring to their mother’s desire for them to finish school.
When told what her children said about her influence, Georgianna Priddy fought back tears. Then speaking in a soft, modest tone, the 69-year-old TSU post office manager said she was just doing what was necessary to give her children a better life. She said she’s proud of them both, and is particularly looking forward to seeing Jerry get his degree – and sharing in his joy.
“I always told him when he gets his degree, I just want to hold it for a little while,” she said. “I’m so happy that he’s made it to this point. It’s a marvelous thing.”
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With more than 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.