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Resilient Jakob Hancock (McIntire ’26) Overcomes Obstacles to Serve Others

Hancock's unfolding journey is a testament to the transformative power of resilience and the profound impact of those who lend a helping hand along the way.

Jakob Hancock

Many students have had to overcome some level of adversity to get to the University of Virginia. But Jakob Hancock has come this far in his journey with a focus and openness that are as refreshing as they are a testament to his innate powers of resilience and humility, as well as his ability to find and foster strong connections in the mutual support of others. It’s easy to notice when you hear him tell his story, one that took him from the streets of the upper Midwest to UVA’s Grounds. No one walks a straight line, but Hancock’s path has been markedly unconventional.

An incoming McIntire student who has been interning with the Defense Contract Audit Agency in Washington, DC, Hancock has a bright future, but it hadn’t always been that way.

Born in Florida and raised by his mother in Grand Rapids, MI, Hancock’s youth was marked by instability and hardship. Recalling more than a year spent as in a homeless shelter early on, he reflects on that formative experience with a mixture of gratitude to how far he has come and introspection at what it took to get where he is today. “I was very young. All I remember is a birthday,” he recounts, “but it’s my baseline. I look back to that a lot.”

His life took a pivotal turn at the age of 15, when his mother’s addiction issues prompted him to move in with his great-aunt and great-uncle in Charlottesville. Once resettled in Central Virginia, he continued to nurture a connection to the bigger world through an appreciation for nature and community. “The Great Lakes were always a thing for me,” he reminisces, “and now, the Blue Ridge Mountains. Those are my two natural things that I love.”

Jakob Hancock

Despite facing numerous challenges at many phases of his life, Hancock’s tenacious spirit propelled him to reach one goal after another. When trying to navigate the daunting task of completing the financial aid process for college, he found himself on his own in attempting to put the pieces together for the government. He realized he needed help—and wasn’t afraid to ask for it.

“I took every paper I had and biked to the financial aid office,” Jakob recalls. “I just walked in there and said, ‘I would like to go to the University.’” He found an unexpected source of support there in UVA employee Andrea Jackson. “She lives and works by principle, rather than a paycheck,” Jakob remarks fondly. “To have someone like that was a miracle.”

His first year at the University was both eye-opening and overwhelming. He was pleased to discover a diversity of students that he had not experienced in his hometown and was energized by the many opportunities to get involved. “I was invigorated, and I wanted to meet everyone and do everything.” Despite getting sick 11 times throughout the year (“I started counting”), Hancock stayed active. He was chosen to join the Commerce Cohort, a program supporting high-achieving, high-need UVA first-years with academic mentorship, career preparation, and personal development, which Hancock calls “a blessing.”

Because of what he learned in the Commerce Cohort, he had his resume ready, and decided on a whim to attend a recruiting fair. There he passed it to a person representing a small agency from the Department of Defense. It led to a quick interview and an internship in Northern Virginia. It was a great relief to him as a milestone of his progress.

“I thought, ‘I’m going to have an interview just like all these other kids,’” he remembers. “That was huge for me. I had an interview, and I could have an internship like everyone else. That must mean I’m on track.”

An Uphill Battle Won

Though Hancock’s journey at UVA has been marked by both triumphs and trials, he has faced each obstacle with unwavering determination.

But perhaps one of the most defining chapters of Hancock’s story came off Grounds in his pursuit of becoming certified as an Outdoor Emergency Care Technician by the National Ski Patrol. Prompted by his great-uncle insisting that he needed a hobby, he embarked on a rigorous journey that tested both his physical and emotional limits. Though after 18 months of training, he failed outdoor emergency ski training.

“I was a shy guy,” he admits. “If you’re going to save someone’s life, you’ve got to manage teams and work in stressful situations; people are dying or maybe their pinkies are broken,” he says, recounting that he had a bloody nose and bawled afterwards, consoling himself with a pint of ice cream. “I had to hold that failure with me, and that just boiled in me all year. And so I went back the next year, and I failed twice within the same season.”

He had to wait another year. Finally, he aced every test he faced. That included training by skiing down a double black diamond with a 400-pound toboggan carrying a fake patient.

“I’m 144 pounds, so that was rigorous. That was humiliating. That was cold,” he says plainly. That was the last day of open season and the day he passed. “That was three years of work,” he recounts, “a year of emergency medical technician training and two years of expert ski training.”

The following season, he finally put his work into practice when tending to a Russian child who fractured his femur running into a fence. “His mother didn’t speak English, and the kid was crying. It was my first injury. I thought, ‘Wow, I see why it took so long to get certified. This is real life.’” He helped put them on a snowmobile and followed behind on skis. The experience still resonates with him. “You feel that. You reach out to people. You connect.”

A Scholar and a Gentleman

Despite facing setbacks and moments of self-doubt, Hancock has persevered and is achieving his aims while finding fulfillment helping others.

Yet with all his accomplishments thus far, he maintains a humble and honest quality. “When I got into UVA and I called my grandmother, she said, ‘Jakob’—these were her first words—‘pride comes before the fall.’ I realized that’s right. Throughout all of this, my grandmother, my aunt and uncle, they checked me.”

As Jakob looks toward the future and starting the last half of his University career at the Commerce School, his dreams remain ambitious, though clear, down-to-earth, and irrepressibly heartfelt.

He recalls that while still in Grand Rapids, he would sometimes go downtown, near the very homeless shelter he had spent time living and think back to the deep impression made on him by the professionals coming and going to their offices across the streets. “I’d see those men with their combed hair, and those suits at those furniture firms. I wanted to be a gentleman,” he shares with conviction. “I close my eyes, and I can see it, to the very fine thread of the suit. I have that burned into my mind. I wanted to be simple and be someone of service. I still live by that because life can seem very complicated very quickly with what you should be doing, what matters, and where you should go. But it’s very simple to me. I want to be a gentleman. I want to have my suit. I want to have indoor plants, a stand-up desk, a partner, and an apartment in downtown DC at a respectable firm. And I’m almost there. I’ve almost got it in the bag. I just have to do well in McIntire.”

While he did rent a place in Washington, which prompted him to decry the high rent but voice gratitude for living in the District, as its where he met his boyfriend, he’s got two more years at UVA before he’s fully on his way.

In a world that celebrates individual achievement, Hancock’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the importance of serving others, connecting with community, and staying centered by humility. His unfolding journey is a testament to the transformative power of resilience and the profound impact of those who lend a helping hand along the way.

“That’s the thing, your life is so much more than your life,” he says. “There’s a lot I could be proud of right now with my story—and I am. But it’s such a huge picture. It’s so much more than just me. That’s the message I want to get across.”

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