Then and now: Jason Nelson ’96 circles back to the Triangle

After college and a stint in the Peace Corps, Nelson came home to discover a transformed and evolving Raleigh-Durham area.

He earned a master’s in public administration from American University in Washington, DC. and served overseas in the Peace Corps. He’s worked in economic development, organizational development, and coaching. Thinking he wanted to flee North Carolina, he’s surprised to find himself thriving in the bustling Triangle area. Jason Nelson ’96 is right — he’s still got the big smile and fun-loving energy of the kid who graduated from Science and Math, ready to take on the world.   Catch up with Nelson and other members of the Classes of ‘6s and ‘1s at Alumni Weekend, October 7-9.   What’s the first thing your classmates would probably remember about you?
Aside from facial hair (several new gray ones every day), that I have not changed much (physically).  Favorite teacher and/or class?
My favorite: Jane Shlensky. American Literature and Writing My most memorable: Jacqueline Dusenbury. I was in Mrs. Dusenbury’s 11th grade American History class. One day early in my junior year, to stress a point she wanted to make, she grabbed a piece of chalk and wrote her entire name on the board: Jacqueline Anne-Marie Florence Meadows Dusenbury. I can’t remember her point but I have never forgotten her full name.

What’s the biggest change in who you are now, compared to who you thought you’d be when graduating from NCSSM?
I never imagined my life would bring me back to Durham. I left Durham in 1996 determined never to look back—I wanted to escape small town life and set off to see the world. In 2006, after a stint in the Peace Corps, I had a one-way ticket to RDU based on my home of record, which I designated as my parents’ address in Roxboro. I intended to stay for a month or two while I figured out my next move. I started reconnecting with family and friends while discovering Durham and the Triangle were changing in a really vibrant way. I ultimately landed a job in economic development. At some point, it dawned on me I had landed where I needed to be. My proximity to family, reconnecting with old friends, and building new enduring friendships (Justin Clapp ’02), have reassured me that everything from which I had been running is what I have been needing the most.

What’s the best piece of advice you would give to today’s Science and Math students?
Some all-nighters are worth it and wind up being a lot of fun. Embrace them (as long as they aren’t habit-forming).
Any fun Unicorn connections over the years that have surprised you, running into classmates in surprising places?

Around 2003 I was living in Washington, D.C. I hopped onto the Metro’s red line during morning rush hour. In the midst of my commute, I remember looking up and thinking “Oh, she looks familiar… Wait! That’s Monica Shah!” You never know when and where you’ll run into a classmate.

What was your most memorable moment or time at school?
I had not planned to go to the prom my junior year. My good friend, Leila Ghassemian Early, wanted to go with one guy in particular. In an effort to nudge him into asking her, she and I concocted a plan pretending to be prom dates. For whatever reason, he didn’t succumb to the pressure. Leila and I had pretended to be each other’s date for so long we thought it made sense to go together. We wound up having such a great time that, 21 years later, I think of that night as one of the most fun ever, and it’s all because of the best prom date ever. Thanks, Leila! Jason Nelson ’96 and his prom date, Leila Ghassemian Early ’96 Don’t miss any of the fun! Register for Alumni Weekend and check out who else is coming.  

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