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Jesse Jackson Jr.

Jesse Jackson Jr.

Former U.S. Congressman | Served from 1995-2012 | Class of 1993

It was in Champaign Urbana that Jesse Jackson Jr. — then a young, ambitious law student — reached two life-changing conclusions.

1. Making a living as a professional lawyer was not for him, after all.

2. If he wanted to impress voters during an eventual run for public office, he might want to lay off the La Bamba.

“As a college freshman, I used to go to class dressed up because I wanted to be a lawyer,” says Jackson, who earned his bachelor’s degree at his famous father’s alma mater (North Carolina A&T) and his master’s a year ahead of schedule (from Chicago Theological Seminary) before enrolling in law school at the UI.

“After I graduated from the UI College of Law, I decided not to take the bar, and I did not become one. In fact, I broke the law, accepted responsibility for my behavior and I paid for it.

“At Illinois, I stopped dressing up and began eating from my favorite restaurant — La Bamba, which used to advertise a burrito ‘as big as your head.’ I would wear my sweatsuits to class to save money on dry cleaning. At the conclusion of law school, I realized that I could no longer wear the suits that were perfectly tailored because with sweats on, I couldn’t judge when I was gaining weight.

“I made many lasting friends as a law student. I met my wife, who ultimately bore the two most amazing people in my life — Jessica and Jesse Jackson III. The quality instruction was — and is — amongst the finest in the country.

“After leaving, I went on to serve 17 years in Congress. I decided in Champaign-Urbana that writing laws with specificity was better than interpreting them.”