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Shamona Thompson Ross, who went from high school dropout to top Sac State student, receives CSU’s highest honor

Sacramento State master's student Shamona Thompson Ross is one of 23 CSU students selected for the Trustees Award for Outstanding Achievement, the system's top student honor. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

Nothing, it seems, can stop Shamona Thompson Ross from achieving her goals.

Not homelessness. Not becoming a mother at age 18. Not an abusive relationship. Not even a breast cancer diagnosis just as she was preparing to begin her studies at Sacramento State.

With each setback she faced, Thompson Ross gained strength and motivation. Today, she is a role model to her children and peers.

For her accomplishments, the CSU has recognized Thompson Ross with a 2023 Trustees Award for Outstanding Achievement, the CSU system’s top student honor.

This isn’t the first time Thompson Ross has been recognized for her scholastic excellence: She also received a 2021 Sac State Dean’s Award as the top student in the College of Education.

“I’ve had to scratch and claw for everything,” said Thompson Ross, who is pursuing a master’s degree in Social Work at Sac State after earning her undergraduate degree in American Sign Language and Deaf Studies in 2021.

“Quitting is not an option for me,” she said. “I’ve come too far for that.”

Thompson Ross is one of 23 CSU scholars – one from each of the system’s campuses – to win this year’s Outstanding Achievement award. The honor comes with an $11,000 scholarship.

Sac State President Emeritus Robert S. Nelsen nominated Thompson Ross for the award, calling her a shining example of student success and someone who displays “incredible will and determination to succeed.”

Thompson Ross, who intends to obtain a doctorate after finishing her master’s program, plans to parlay her success into helping socially and economically disadvantaged people of color and children with disabilities follow their dreams.

“I want to be a role model, not just for my kids but for my nieces and nephews. And I want to serve and give back to my community. I want to empower others, and let them know that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.” -- Shamona Thompson Ross

Her own path has been rocky at times.

Thompson Ross dropped out of high school at 16 and became pregnant at 18. She suffered bouts of homelessness and desperation, and left her abusive partner.

Looking to turn her life around, she decided that education was her best path forward. At 21, she received her high school equivalency certificate, and later attended community college with the help of student loans and other financial aid. By the fall of 2018, she was ready to transfer to Sac State.

Additional obstacles, however, were thrown in her way. Just as she was scheduled to start classes, she learned she had breast cancer. Though she briefly pondered skipping a semester while undergoing treatment, she ultimately decided to begin her Sac State journey while recovering from a double mastectomy.

“When I got to that beautiful campus, it was like God himself was talking to me,” Thompson Ross said. “I said to myself, ‘Nothing’s going to stop me.’ ”

Her first semester was a blur. She had children to support, and was still in pain and discomfort from her surgery. At home, her cupboards were nearly empty. She struggled with depression and anxiety. Still, she finished with a perfect 4.0 GPA.

Thompson Ross credits the resources and encouragement she received from Sac State programs, faculty, and staff members for getting her to the finish line. She singles out the Educational Opportunity Program, the McNair Scholars program, and the Crisis Assistance and Educational Support Services program for helping her navigate challenging times.

“People on the Sac State campus have been so helpful to me,” said Thompson Ross, who is now married with four children and two stepchildren. “When I was in a dark place, someone always stepped in to support me.

“I just didn’t want to fail. I had a real fear of failing myself, so I just kept going.”

Paying off student loans and other debt is the next obstacle Thompson Ross must navigate, she said, a burden the scholarship that comes with the CSU award will help ease. With continued support, she is confident she will fulfill her personal and professional dreams.

“I want to be a role model, not just for my kids but for my nieces and nephews,” Thompson Ross said.

“And I want to serve and give back to my community. I want to empower others, and let them know that they can achieve whatever they want to achieve.”

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About Cynthia Hubert

Cynthia Hubert came to Sacramento State in November 2018 after an award-winning career writing for the Sacramento Bee. Cynthia believes everyone has a good story. She lives in East Sacramento with her two cats, who enjoy bird-watching from their perch next to the living-room window.

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