Chasing the Hoodie: How a Joke Led a Richmond Hill Mom to Academic Stardom
April Trepagnier had no idea that her fascination with a graduation hood would lead her to pursue her first college degree at 43 years old.
A resident of Richmond Hill, Georgia, Trepagnier attended a graduation ceremony at Georgia Southern in 2019 and found herself inspired by the sight of a doctoral graduate’s hooded regalia.
“I knew nothing about academia,” she said. “When the doctorates were graduating, I looked at my husband, Mike, and I asked, ‘Are those hoodies? I want a hoodie.’ …So it became a joke for about two weeks — like, ‘It’s so funny that shes’s never been, but Mom’s wants to go to school just to get a hoodie.’
“Like most things, it was funny right until Mike got serious.”
With encouragement her husband, and with only two weeks until the start of the spring semester, Trepagnier decided to enroll at Georgia Southern. She faced numerous challenges, including obtaining her high school diploma and SAT scores. She says the admissions office “moved mountains” to help her enroll in time, and she received her schedule just 45 minutes before her first class.
Despite the challenges, April quickly made her mark at Georgia Southern. She joined the Southern Ambassadors, a group of students who represent the University to student prospects and visitors, and won Ambassador of the Year in 2022. She studied abroad at Georgia Southern’s Wexford, Ireland, Study Abroad Center, presented research at two conferences and the joint meeting of the Georgia Southern Foundation Board of Trustees and Alumni Board.
Most recently, she was the Georgia Southern representative at Academic Recognition Day at the University System of Georgia (USG) in Atlanta, where she met Sonny Perdue, former Georgia governor and current chancellor for the USG.
According to Steven Engel, Ph.D., dean of the Honors College, Trepagnier is the model for what a student can be.
“She’s exactly the kind of student you want in your classes and that you want on the campus,” he said. “When professors have this platonic form of what a student should be like, April fits the bill exactly. She’s curious, fierce, open-minded and willing to engage. She shows up, does the work and then goes beyond.”
As a mother of six, business ownerand Navy veteran, Trepagnier balanced her responsibilities while maintaining a perfect 4.0 grade point average. She said she’s always had a passion for literature, but in high school felt there was a disconnect between the stories she read and the way literature was taught. At Georgia Southern, she explored this disconnect in her undergraduate honors thesis, and now calls writing and the study of literature her “happy place.”
“When I’m writing papers or doing all this work, folks will say, ‘I don’t even know why you do that to yourself,’” she said. “Or they say, ‘I could never go back to school.’ But this has become my self-care.”
“Some people golf, birdwatch, collect baseball cards. I go to school, read great work, have discussions with really smart people about what it all means, and then I get to write about it. This is my happy place.”
Trepagnier will cross the stage at Paulson Stadium in Statesboro and receive her bachelor’s degree in English on Tuesday, May 9. The event will bring her full circle — from curious onlooker of hooded regalia to an outstanding honors graduate.
She’ll continue at Georgia Southern for her master’s degree in English in the fall, and still plans to get that Ph.D., get her “hoodie,” and be able to tell a great story.
“I don’t know what I’ll do next, but here’s the real truth: the Ph.D. has always been the goal,” she said. “Not only is it something I know I can do, it’s also a super fun story. People ask me all the time, ‘Why are you going to school?’ And I always answer, ‘So that my husband has to call me doctor!’”