HOME / SEPTEMBER 2021
Heart and Soul
Night School Classmates Found Encouragement, Confidence and Friendship
The next time something unpleasant pops up to interrupt your plans, take heart from
Jessica Clasby. She’s come to believe “God has reasons for His timing.”
About 10 years ago, while running a membership program for the Central Palm Beach
County Chamber of Commerce, Jessica learned about Palm Beach Atlantic University’s
evening classes for non-traditional students. As she heard PBA’s Dr. Jim Laub describe
the Christian atmosphere and the leadership program, “something inside me just totally
changed,” she recalled.
Prior to that time, she’d been content with the associate’s degree she earned at a
community college. But after hearing Laub’s remarks, she hurried up to him and said,
“I need to learn more about this school.” The following week, she registered for classes,
eager to study for her bachelor’s degree.
Then came the interruption. She got seriously ill, and was out of commission for seven
weeks. “But I still had this fire in me that I needed to come to PBA,” she said. So
after her recovery, she signed up again, and began her classes in August 2011.
Looking back on it now, Jessica concludes, “There was a reason for me to be in class
that August.” God was about to place professors and classmates in her path for a purpose.
Her instructors challenged and encouraged her. Soon she had duel-enrolled to head
for her master’s on top of her bachelor’s. “Everything just kind of shaped my life
and changed from that point,” she said.
Stepping out of her shell and reaching higher
It was hard, holding down a full-time job and going to evening classes, but Jessica
realized she was growing. “It gave me the confidence to step out of my shell and reach
higher.” Even before she earned that master’s degree, she upped her game professionally,
landing a leadership position.
Meanwhile, Jessica was reaching out as well as reaching up. Once, as she was just
getting to know the students in a new class, she listened as classmate Maricela Torres
opened up about her feelings and world view. She’d been wrestling with questions like
“Who am I? What does my life mean? What is the purpose of my life?”
PBA, of course, is a Christian university, but Maricela told the class she was “still
really searching” for the spiritual side of her life.
Immediately, Jessica spoke up. Putting a hand on Maricela’s shoulder, she told her,
“You belong here. You’re going to find what you’re looking for.”
“I had no idea who this woman was,” recalled Maricela. But she took heart at this
gesture of compassion and respect. After class the two talked for a long time, and
they wound up becoming close friends.
“Jessica is not one of those quiet friends,” Maricela said. “She’s a cheerleader who
shows up for her friends and the causes she believes in. She always likes to encourage
and empower others in their dreams. It may not be her dream, but she is sitting right
there, courtside, cheering you on. That makes her special.”
On to master’s degrees and new missions
As Jessica predicted, Maricela grew in her faith. And both women earned their master’s
degrees, Jessica’s in leadership, and Maricela’s in counseling. Maricela went on to
become co-founder and executive director of the Esperanza Community Center, a nonprofit
organization serving the Northwood community of West Palm Beach. The center’s mission
is “to empower day laborers and families in the Northwood community to thrive.”
“Maricela is pretty amazing,” said Jessica. The feeling is mutual. Recently these
two PBA grads enjoyed lunch together, “and then in the parking lot we were still hanging
on for 20 minutes,” said Maricela. “There’s so much to talk about. I’m so proud of
Jessica and everything she has accomplished.”
I had the privilege of meeting Jessica last year at the grand opening of Palm Beach
Atlantic’s new, eight-story student residence Watson Family Hall. These days she’s
using her gifts as encourager and “cheerleader” in both her job and her volunteer
service. She is senior director of public relations for the Florida Sugar Cane League,
describing herself as a storyteller on the importance of agriculture.
Jessica also has become president of the Palm Beach Atlantic University Alumni Association.
Director of Alumni Relations Steve Eshelman said she’s brought an incredible level
of energy, experience and enthusiasm to the task. “Jessica’s love for our Christ-first
University and fellow alumni community is evident in everything she does,” he said.
I’m struck by that word community. I think about these two PBA alumna who came together in learning, friendship, encouragement
and service. Thank you, Jessica and Maricela, for that example of true community in
the fellowship of Christ.
Dr. Debra A. Schwinn, a physician, researcher and innovator, is president of Palm Beach Atlantic University.