CLARKSTON, Ga. – Renee Davis still has her original Georgia State University student ID number, issued in 1983, when she was an idealistic high school graduate with aspirations of playing basketball and majoring in computer science.
But her dreams of playing college basketball didn’t pan out, and after a semester, she dropped out to pursue a military career. Now, almost four decades later, Davis is back in school at Georgia State’s Perimeter College, as a music pathway student pursuing an associate degree.
She is a U.S. Air Force Reserve veteran with 11 years of honorable service. She’s also a wife, mother and “Mimi” to three grandchildren--along with being a two-time breast cancer and kidney cancer survivor.
And Davis is determined. Nothing will stop her from finishing her degree.
“I had to come back to college; it’s like I’m finishing the job I started 40 years ago," Davis said.
"It has haunted me that I never finished, and it's important to me that I graduate."
As a veteran, Davis is among more than 2,500 military veterans and their families who attend Perimeter College and the Atlanta Campus. On Wednesday, Nov. 8 she’ll be among other service members honored during a special Veterans Recognition Ceremony on the college's Clarkston Campus. The program will feature keynote speaker State Sen. Tonya B. Anderson.
For Davis, coming back to college is returning full circle to the education she left as an impressionable
After a semester at Georgia State, she withdrew from her college classes and joined the U.S. Air Force Reserve. As a reservist she received basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, and technical training at Sheppard AFB, eventually assigned as an air cargo specialist in the 80th Mobile Aerial Port both at Dobbins Air Force Base and later at the 94th Aerial Port squadron at Warner Robins. During her reservist stint, she also was an assistant academic trainer for her fellow airman and served as her air force unit historian, chronicling the special events and stories of her unit.
Davis’s husband Juan is also a veteran. Juan Davis, Sr. served in the U.S. Army and later served in Georgia’s 116th Army National Guard Band/124 public affairs detachment as the unit's readiness NCO. The couple, married for 36 years, have raised two children.
During her military career, Davis traveled overseas to Panama and England. Over the past four decades, Davis’s jobs involved helping military personnel and their families, working at the U.S. Department of Defense at Fort Gillem in Forest Park, and at U.S. Army Forces Command (FORSCOM) at Fort McPherson in Atlanta. She also worked for the Department of the Veterans Administration Health Eligibility Center as a legal administration specialist. She retired in 2021, after 33 years with the federal government.
While completing her college education was always at the back of Davis’s mind, her life threw some curves.
In between work and raising her family, she was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer. “I was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer at age 33, had a lumpectomy, and went into remission,” she said.
But the cancer returned years later and this time she had a double mastectomy. She also had a kidney removed after being diagnosed with kidney cancer.
She has been cancer-free since 2013.
“God is so gracious,” she said.
Coming back to college was daunting because of the length of time away, she said. But she said she was inspired by her children’s collegiate successes.
Her son, Juan II, had thrived while at Perimeter College, with its smaller classrooms and campuses, graduating with his associate degree in 2013, and continuing on to receive his bachelor degree in 2015 from GSU’s Atlanta Campus. Her daughter played bassoon and clarinet for Florida A&M University’s marching band in Tallahassee, graduating in 2018.
While Davis originally started at the Atlanta Campus years ago, the intimacy of Perimeter’s smaller classes appealed to her as a nontraditional student, she said. At age 58, she decided to enroll at Georgia State’s Clarkston Campus--this time following her lifelong passion for music.
As a veteran, Davis is eligible for VA benefits to help with her college tuition; but she also is a dependent using her husband’s VA benefits for college expenses.
Davis says she enjoys coming to the Clarkston Military Outreach Center to study and unwind between classes.
“They have made it so comfortable and personable… it’s a hidden jewel on campus.”
For more information about Georgia State’s Military Outreach Program, go to military.gsu.edu
Story by Rebecca Rakoczy
Photo by Bill Roa