South Jordan Mayor Dawn Ramsey graduated after a 20-year hiatus
south bank • When Dawn Ramsey decided to take a break from college to spend more time with her family, she wanted the break to end eventually.
That was true even after taking care of six children, some of whom did their own celebratory opening walks. It stayed that way even after she became mayor of South Jordan, one of the fastest growing cities in the country.
The delay in her academic career eventually lasted 20 years. But now, after many sleepless nights and juggling city duties, Ramsey has fulfilled a longtime promise she made to her parents: She earned her college degree.
At age 49, her cap and gown were hers, as was her bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University’s School of Family Life.
“Neither of my parents had the chance to go to college. My grandparents never went to college. I didn’t grow up in a family that had opportunities like this,” Ramsey said. “It was just something that was always important to me, something I’ve always wanted to do and something that my dad always really encouraged me to do.”
Like her father, who completed a semester at BYU but could not afford to return, she longed to return to campus. She always had that goal in the back of her mind and got closer and closer as her children got older.
Though her hiatus lasted decades, she managed to consolidate her undergraduate credits from Salt Lake Community College and the University of Utah. She took three more courses to earn her associate degree at SLCC and enrolled at BYU on that basis.
“I love social sciences,” she said of her family life degree, “and I love understanding the research and the data and figuring out how to apply them to policies that can help empower individuals and families.”
A few months later, she ran for mayor, becoming the first woman to hold the city’s highest elected post in 2018. Her schedule was full. In some semesters she only took one lecture. It took her 5½ years to reach the finish line.
“I had to take the slow route because life was hectic. I have a family and we’re one of the top 10 fastest growing cities in America, and there’s just been a lot going on there,” she said. “But I’ve made progress.”
Although serving as mayor of South Jordan is a part-time job on paper, it can also come with full-time commitments.
Day and many nights, Ramsey, now in her second term, has been kept busy with her civic duties on multiple boards and committees, in addition to the challenges of staying ahead of South Jordan’s growth, whether it be evaluating a proposal for a daybreak—like developing or preparing to welcome the Salt Lake Bees baseball team to the suburban city of over 80,000.
“It wasn’t easy to accommodate that,” she said. “It’s been quite a sacrifice and I’ve had a lot of really late nights trying not to take my time away from my family, giving them my attention and giving this public service my full attention and school on my side too.” make ‘own time, which usually came late at night.’
A 2018 study by the Utah Women and Leadership Project found that more than 25% of women in Utah fall into the “some college but no degree” category, higher than the national average of nearly 20% for women.
Her husband Dan stepped in, Ramsey said, preparing meals and handling other family responsibilities to support her political activities and college career.
Ramsey hopes to be a role model for those who have been in the same situation and still dream of going back to the classroom.
“There is one more finish line. You’re still going to be 49, or however old you are, that’s still going to happen,” she said. “You might as well bring the degree with you.”
Sydnee Dickson, Utah’s public education superintendent, who has served on various committees with Ramsey, noted the work the mayor put into her unconventional college trip.
“Education was important to her personally. It’s a promise she made to her father,” Dickson said. “But she also places great value in supporting education for others because she knows that this is a way out of poverty. She knows that this is the way to economic success. She knows it helps people get more involved in their citizenship.”
Dickson praises Ramsey’s persistence.
“We know that mothers’ education is a really important factor in their children’s educational attainment,” she said. “It shows a work ethic, perseverance. I think there are just so many character traits we can learn from watching a mayor achieve her lifelong goal at a time when she is probably at her busiest time in her life. ”
And although Ramsey is successful in many ways and is not looking to make a career change, her experience on campus has become crucial to her life story.
“I learned a lot from it, something in every class. I gained so much from it,” she said. “It was truly one of the most meaningful and rewarding things I’ve ever done.”
Alixel Cabrera is a Report for America Corps member and writes for The Salt Lake Tribune on the status of communities on the west side of the Salt Lake Valley. Her donation to complement our RFA grant helps ensure she continues to write stories like this. Please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking Here.