Discover Madison Kentucky January-February 2021 - Page 7

Words by | Destinee Ott

Defying odds is something

Aaron Thompson is very familiar with .
From humble beginnings , Thompson became the first Kentucky native and African American to serve as president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education .
A native of Clay County , Thompson grew up on a share cropper ’ s farm . His father was an illiterate coal miner who signed his name with an x . His mother had only an eighth-grade education .
Thompson was the youngest of nine children and lived a lifestyle he described as poor .
However , Thompson said he knew education was the key to success and opportunity . The odds were against him . He was poor , Appalachian and
Black .
A fact that he was reminded of daily when he encountered racism while transitioning from an all-Black kindergarten to an integrated elementary school — Horse Creek Elementary .
Peers taunted him and some teachers underestimated him , but Thompson was determined to defy the odds . Putting in the work his other classmates didn ’ t feel compelled to do .
He spent his summers in the classroom , not because he had fallen behind , but because he was determined to get ahead .
That determination led him to not only become a first-generation high school graduate , but a first-generation college graduate as well .
After graduation from Clay County High School , Thompson chose to attend Eastern Kentucky University .
It was a decision based on many factors , he explained .
EKU represents Eastern Kentucky , Thompson said , and he knew he would see people from his “ neck of the woods ” on campus . The university was also large enough to insure he would be able to experience more diversity .
“ It ’ s home ,” Thompson said of EKU and Madison County .
Arriving in Richmond as a freshman , Thompson said he did not have much information about higher education , so he picked his first choice of a major ( pre-law political science ) on a whim .
“... I didn ’ t know a lot about what it meant to major in anything ,” Thompson explained . “ They asked me during my summer orientation what I wanted to do … I said , ‘ I want to get a job .’”
Thompson said in his hometown , the people he knew who made money were lawyers . So that was what he chose to major in . However , as his
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