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Sophia Thompson Realizes Dream of Earning a Degree

Mary Dempsey
By Mary Dempsey
  • Commencement |
  • News

Editor's Note: This profile is part of a series that features the stories of graduates whose outstanding journeys have culminated in a UMGC degree.

When Sophia Thompson was a child in Jamaica, her family was so destitute that she and her sister sometimes missed school because they had no shoes. Today she marvels at the life she has built in the United States—and how her new Bachelor of Science in Cybersecurity Management and Policy from University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) will continue her upward journey.

As a child, Thompson was in awe of people who graduated from university. “I always hoped that one day I would be walking across that stage, overcoming obstacles,” she said. “A couple of weeks ago when I received a box from UMGC and opened it to see my graduation tassel, I started crying. It’s a dream come true.”

After Thompson takes part in UMGC’s Grad Walk, she plans some travel with her wife, and then she will look into her next academic goal: a master’s degree in business administration. But already she has surpassed the odds. 

“I came from a rough household. There was domestic violence, and my father was the breadwinner so when my parents divorced and he left—I was 13, the youngest of six children—we didn’t have much. There were days when we had no shoes. We didn’t have food some days. The lights were cut off, we didn’t have running water,” she said. 

One thing Thompson did have was her intelligence and her craving for an education. She was so smart that she started high school at age 10 but was unable to graduate from high school or even get access to her transcripts because her school fees were three years in arrears. Things worsened when, at age 15, she came out as a lesbian and her mother threw her out of the house. Thompson was homeless for a time. 

Then a nonprofit provided her with housing and a stipend to study data entry.

“I was 17, going on 18, and it was the first time in my life that I had touched a computer,” she said. The program led to an internship in data entry. Through the internship she became connected to a company that hired her full-time as tour guide. Someone in one of her tour groups subsequently helped her move to Minnesota, and then Texas, where Thompson studied at night to earn a bachelor’s degree in construction management while working full time. 

From there, Thompson began to build a life that defied her beginnings. After living in Texas and Maryland, she ended up in Georgia, where she lives now. She turned to UMGC when she decided she needed more rigorous academic credentials.

“I did a lot of research to find UMGC,” she said. “I saw that a lot of people from the military go there, that a lot of people who work at top corporations studied there, and I told myself, ‘This is where I’m going.’” 

Today she is married to Angelica Thompson, a research scientist and former university professor. Thompson jokes about the pressure to excel in her studies when the person in the next room has a PhD. But she becomes serious when acknowledging how Thompson’s support of her academic dreams was pivotal to her achievement.

“She has been my rock,” Thompson said. “She pushes me and drives me, and having the role model of someone who values education has been important.”

Thompson currently works as a network maintenance manager for Comcast, which paid for her to pursue her UMGC degree. Her goal is to move up in the company.

“I’m really interested in infrastructure security, and I had wanted to study computer science but never got the opportunity,” she said. “I decided to pursue cybersecurity because not only is it the way of the future, but it is a degree that will advance my life.”

Thompson’s wife, in-laws, brother, and mother—they have reconnected—will travel to Maryland to see her receive her diploma at Grad Walk.

“It is something I can barely understand, how I went from being barefoot, hungry, and homeless to being able to walk proudly across the stage at UMGC,” she said.