A Well-Deserved Degree 

Left: Wilma and grandson Jordan; Right: Wilma Hamilton receives her honorary degree from UCO President Todd Lamb 

At two and a half years old, Jordan Cowan was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. This genetic condition progressively affects the muscles and limits mobility, and the family knew then that Jordan might only live to see his late teens or early twenties. 

Still, Jordan had goals for himself. Physical limitations aside, he was strong in the ways that mattered most: mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. So, following high school graduation, college was a natural next step. But Jordan wouldn’t do it alone. 

Needing assistance but hoping to avoid the potential inconsistency of hired help, Jordan looked to someone he could always trust: his grandma. “At the time, I had found myself in a new place and phase of life, asking God what I was supposed to do next,” Jordan’s grandmother, Wilma Hamilton, said. “I felt compelled to be present for my grandchildren. And then I got the call.” 

Putting aside various health concerns of her own, Wilma was an eager wing-woman – ready to face all that the role would entail. At 71, she headed back to the college classroom to become Jordan’s transportation, assistant, and note-taker while also deepening the roles she was already in: confidant and friend. 

“It was a benefit to both of us that I had some college experience. And it didn’t feel totally unfamiliar,” she said. “It was funny taking a history class with him, discussing events in the 50s, 60s and 70s where I could say, ‘Hey, I was there!’” 

Though Wilma held the pen, Jordan was always the pupil, diligently retaining course knowledge, dictating answers – even complicated formulas – and ultimately earning a degree in management in 2020. 

Though COVID made it an unfortunate year for in-person commencements, the accomplishment was every bit as meaningful. “Jordan always just wanted to be treated like a real, regular person and his time at UCO gave him that,” his mother, Beverly Cowan, said, “He would always say that his struggles were no different than what other people were dealing with. The only difference is that his struggles were visible.” 

Jordan’s disease progressed, and he passed away in June of last year. As the family approaches the one-year anniversary of Jordan’s death, they hope his determination, positivity, and faith are remembered. 

“I could never have a bad day when I was around him. Jordan’s faith in God was remarkable. He lived out his belief that he could do all things through Christ who gave him strength,” Wilma said. 

“Imagine how you feel when you can’t do something you’ve always done,” she said. “When Jordan stopped being able to walk, learned he wouldn’t be able to drive, stopped being able to play games – each time, his response was remarkable. His faith was outstanding.” 

What Wilma won’t say is that she is an inspiration as well. To honor her commitment to her grandson and his goals, the university awarded her the Baccalaureate of Business Administration, honoris causa (honorary) degree during the Spring 2024 commencement ceremony. It wasn’t her first degree, but it was certainly the most surprising. “it was unbelievable they would do that. It was such an honor.” 

With her college days now behind her, Wilma is investing in others as an in-home caregiver for Visiting Angels. “I guess I’m just born to be a caregiver,” she joked, although it seems entirely likely from a family who knows life isn’t measured in length but resilience and plenty of love. 

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