Jackson State Community College provided foundation for Estonian law professor

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Jackson State Community College
Phil Graves, from Jackson State to Estonia

In 1984, Phil Graves had no idea that his college experience at Jackson State Community College would eventually lead him to teach international law at Tallinn University in Estonia. Graves has been at the university in Estonia for more than 10 years now.

Although he finished his associate degree at JSCC 34 years ago, he recalls his beginning at the college and knows that it set the foundation upon which the rest of his life and career would be built. “Jackson State provided me with an opportunity that I would never have pursued at a 4-year institution,” Graves said.

Graves, like so many students that come through the doors of JSCC, was a first-generation college student and never imagined that a college degree was in his future. “I came from a working-class family who believed that you got a job after high school and worked hard to make a life for yourself,” Graves said.

Phil graduated from North Side High School in 1984. Not anticipating college in his future, he took the vocational track of auto-body repair and proceeded to the Tennessee Technology Center (now Tennessee College of Applied Technology) to get an advanced credential in auto-body repair.

Graves also found himself working in a manufacturing position during this time and came to realize that this is not what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. 

With the persuasion of his mother and a close friend, he applied to Jackson State. “I had never considered that college would be an option for me,” said Graves. “I had gone down the vocational education pathway and no one in my family had never gone to college; it just wasn’t on my radar.”

It didn’t take long before Phil developed a passion for education. “The professors at the college were so encouraging and opened my eyes to a whole new world I had never dreamed possible,” said Graves. “I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew that I would be going a lot further.”

Phil went on to complete a bachelor’s degree at Middle Tennessee State University. Eventually, he found himself doing graduate work in international law in Estonia at Tallinn University of Technology. After completing a master’s degree in international and European law, Graves joined a business and legal consulting firm where he served as a member of the management board for several years. In 2012, Graves joined the law faculty at the School of Governance, Law and Society at Tallinn University, where he teaches international law and legal theory. 

For the past four years, Graves has also been in the doctoral program at the University of Valencia in Spain. “All those years ago at Jackson State, this is something that I never would have dreamed I would be doing,” he said. “The nurturing environment that was created with professors and others at the college helped me realize my potential and to see beyond my current circumstances; they truly changed the trajectory of my life.”

Graves is currently working on the completion of his dissertation, and he returned to Jackson while on sabbatical leave to work on his project.

“While working on a dissertation is not necessarily enjoyable, I have greatly enjoyed being back home in Jackson to work on this project,” Graves said. “I have spent several hours in the Jackson State Library working on my dissertation. It is somewhat nostalgic, but it has helped to put things into perspective and given me a true appreciation for the journey that began at Jackson State.”