Grandmother, granddaughter get degrees at same time

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By Jesef Williams

Zsaneal Benson didn't have to look far to find motivation to do well in school.

Her grandmother, Margaret Dixon, proves every day that you can reach your goals if your strive hard.

In May, Dixon, 52, earned a bachelor of arts in interdisciplinary studies from the University of South Carolina at Lancaster. Her concentration is in social work and psychology.

A few weeks afterward, Benson graduated from Lancaster High School, and now she's about to start college at Francis Marion University in Florence.

Dixon, who works full time as an administrative assistant in USCL's counseling center, tells her granddaughter that her journey to that point was not an easy one.


Dixon, a Lancaster native, dropped out of high school at 15. She had her first child that year and was married the next. Within two years, she gave birth to her second child.

Dixon began adult education four years after she dropped out. And four more later, Dixon had earned a high school diploma.

"I was determined that I wanted to finish," Dixon said.

After graduating, Dixon worked a few jobs but was later hampered by a host of health issues.

Dixon has high blood pressure and controlled type II diabetes and was diagnosed with degenerative arthritis in both legs in 1990. She also has a lung disorder called sarcoidosis.

She was on disability from 1991 to 1995, and three years later, she had to go back on disability because of the arthritis. In 2000, she was on disability once again.

She had knee-replacement surgery and has trouble walking long distances and standing for long periods of time.

After sitting at home for several years, she decided to enroll at USCL in 2004. She said she feels better than she used to.

"Disability is not a way of life for me," Dixon said. "I knew I could do more."

And, she did. At USCL, Dixon excelled academically. She made the dean's list four times.

Impact on Benson

At Francis Marion University, Benson plans to major in biology and wants to be a forensic pathologist.

Her grandmother has stressed the importance of making good grades, as she did in college.

Benson's struggles make her want to try harder.

"If she could come back and make straight A's with her health problems, I knew I could," Benson said.

Benson, 18, said she eyed Francis Marion since she was a freshman in high school. She believes she can do well there.

"I always wanted to go there," Benson said. "I like the atmosphere. It's more hands-on and you get more one-on-one time with your professors."

Dixon is glad she and her granddaughter graduated from their schools the same year. She planned out her semesters at USCL so it could happen.

Benson will be Dixon's first grandchild to attend college. She will move on campus Aug. 16 and classes start the next week.

"I'm very proud of her," said Dixon, who raised Benson. "She's a remarkable young lady. She's very smart and beautiful, and I want her to stay that way."

Dixon at USCL

While a student at USCL, Dixon worked part-time at the counseling center. In 2006, she was offered the permanent part-time position of administrative assistant, which led to her position now.

Tracey Craig, one of three counselors in the office, said it's nice to see Dixon transition from student to full-time employee.

"We just love having her here," said Craig, who's also an adjunct psychology professor at USCL. "Margaret definitely inspires us all. Her determination – I just think it's great."

Contact reporter Jesef Williams at jwilliams@thelancasternews.com or at (803) 283-1152