Rising Beyond:The Trailblazing Legacy of Jackie Waters

It is our nature to push against boundaries, look past what is seen, and create what ought to be. This impulse ultimately pushes humanity to rise above adversity and expectation; a drive that has existed at Cumberland University for years and is embodied by various students, faculty, and staff in our storied history.

As Women’s History Month begins, Jackie Waters is a bastion of purpose, reminding us of women’s invaluable contributions throughout history. Her story serves as a source of inspiration for all, encouraging the pursuit of knowledge, equality, and breaking down barriers.

Jacqueline (Jackie) Waters, born Jacqueline Coggins, led a remarkable life. Originally from Wilson County, Tennessee, she stood as a pillar of inspiration in her local community. Born in 1952, Jackie emerged as a trailblazer in the educational landscape from an early age. Jackie did not only excel academically but also demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities by serving as class president. Her dedication and commitment to academic excellence culminated in her graduation as the valedictorian of her class.

After high school, Waters continued her educational pursuits at Cumberland University, earning her associate’s degree in 1971, etching her name in history as the second black person to receive a diploma from the institution. This accomplishment was a milestone in her life’s journey and her launching pad for promoting diversity and inclusion in education. Undeterred by challenges, Waters earned her bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University, solidifying her commitment to lifelong learning and academic achievement.

Returning to her roots in Lebanon, Jackie became a fourth-grade teacher, where she dedicated an impressive 27 years to shaping young minds. Her impact on the lives of her students extended far beyond the classroom, instilling values of resilience, determination, and the importance of education in the hearts of those she touched. Jackie became a beloved figure locally, known for her unwavering dedication to fostering a positive community environment.

Jackie Waters’ educational and professional accomplishments only tell a part of her story. Reflecting on his aunt’s legacy, Ja’Rob Coggins, fondly speaks of Jackie Waters:  

My aunt was a remarkable woman whose life radiated compassion and unwavering faith. She left an indelible mark on those who knew her. She was a mother, mentor, friend, and role model to countless students and colleagues. She was a person who put God, family, and love above all else and her impact extended far beyond the classroom. 

As a mother, Jackie exemplified selflessness. Her love for her children was evident in every sacrifice she made. She nurtured their dreams and celebrated their victories. Her home was a sanctuary where faith and family intertwined seamlessly. Her faith wasn’t just a Sunday ritual; it was the bedrock of her existence. 

Yet, it was her passion for youth that truly set her apart. She saw potential in every child she encountered. She believed education was more than textbooks; it was about nurturing character, resilience, and empathy. Her classroom buzzed with curiosity, laughter, and the promise of brighter futures. 

My aunt Jackie taught us that life isn’t measured solely in years but in the impact we leave behind. She left a legacy that will never be forgotten. Her love, faith, and dedication continue to ripple through generations, reminding us to be our own superheroes and to uplift others along the way.

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