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2010 August 23 - 12:00 am

STUDENT SPOTLIGHT: ‘Road Scholar’s’ Odyssey: From Big Rig to Community College to Harvard

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — You can call Kerry Anderson a “road scholar” with a unique view of education.

Anderson’s first learning venture came in the cabin of her truck-driver mom’s big rig, where she was home-schooled while crisscrossing America.

She continued her education at Valencia Community College, where her can-do character and irrepressible drive dazzled everyone and led to honors and the role of graduation speaker in 2007.

Now the 26-year-old can say she has viewed the world from the ivy-covered environs of Harvard University. She earned a bachelor’s degree in government from Harvard a few weeks ago after winning a full scholarship that seemed to come out of nowhere.

The road ahead promises even wider vistas.

Long interested in politics, she is contemplating law school and a career in foreign policy and international relations. Studying the history of nations such as Iran while at Harvard gave her insight into how “the domino effect of just one decision long ago can affect the dynamic of the entire world.”

“You need to understand how things started in order to learn how to fix things,” Anderson says.


It’s been an eventful few years for someone who, at age 12, decided to skip the school dances and cafeteria lunches at public schools in favor of hitting the road with her mom, Linda, a cross-country truck driver.

Kerry Anderson’s younger brother, Steven, was aboard too.

The kids received more than book learning in the basics of reading and writing. They saw places most kids know only through books or TV. Occasional trips through Canada and Mexico spiced their travels.

Linda Anderson recalls that Kerry and her brother helped plan travel routes and calculate how long it would take to reach each new destination on their mom’s itinerary, a practical education in math and geography.

By the time she was ready for college, Anderson was ready to experience learning in a more conventional way. She took a break from the road and dived into her formal classroom studies at Valencia, earning a place on the dean’s list while becoming active in campus activities and in community service projects.

For her dedication, Anderson was named 2007’s distinguished graduate by Valencia’s Alumni Association, giving her the right to address more than 4,500 classmates at graduation.

“She had a very unusual childhood and told us about having to come out of her shell,” said Tammy Lamm, a member of the alumni panel that chose to honor Anderson.

Her key attribute was her steely confidence, Lamm said at the time.

After graduating from Valencia, Anderson vowed to take her time in deciding her next step. She knew she wanted to continue her studies, but wasn’t exactly sure where to go

It wasn’t long after her story of achievement at Valencia made the news back in 2007 that she received an e-mail from someone claiming to be a Harvard recruiter.

At first, she and her mom thought the invitation might be a scam.

Would Kerry consider attending Harvard University for free?

It was no joke.

Mother and daughter spent considerable time researching the unbelievable offer and concluded it was genuine. The disbelief gave way to shock and then celebration.

Harvard turns away thousands of applicants every year and seldom takes transfer students. But her story touched recruiters who liked her history and wanted her experience to become part of the university’s.

Anderson’s route from Central Florida to Cambridge, Mass., became a topic of discussion during classes at Harvard, mostly because she had transferred from a community college.

“I definitely stuck out,” Anderson says.

Though she was surprised at the unexpected offer, her mom saw it as fateful.

“My mom told me how when I was 3 or 4 years old I told her that I was going to go to Harvard,” Kerry recounted. “She says I sounded very determined.”

Anderson says she doesn’t remember making that declaration. In any case, she gives her mom much of the credit for helping make that forgotten dream come true.

“She got me there,” Anderson says.

It’s OUR TURN:  CCW wants to hear from you!

1: Have you had a student with similar experiences?
2: Do home-schooled students have advantages over their traditionally-educated peers?
3. Should Ivy League schools admit more community college transfers?

Share your opinion of this story with us via: http://ccweekblog.wordpress.com/2010/08/23/road-scholar/ or editor@ccweek.com

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