• Commencement 2023
  • Athletics
  • College of General Studies

NFL Hall of Famer Rickey Jackson received his Pitt degree at age 65

Jackson in a black cap and gown with red and white stoles

Rickey Jackson is no stranger to accolades for his work.

Jackson played in the NFL for 15 seasons, 13 of them with the New Orleans Saints. As a member of the Saints’ famed “Dome Patrol” linebacking corps, he earned five second-team All-Pro selections and seven Pro Bowl selections as he wreaked havoc on opposing offenses. Jackson also played two final seasons with the San Francisco 49ers, becoming a Super Bowl champion in the 1994 season. He was then inaugurated into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2010. 

But one achievement he didn’t have was his college degree.

On April 30, Jackson was one of 2,500 students to graduate as part of the Class of 2023, finishing his degree in social sciences from the College of General Studies. Jackson’s graduation comes 40 years after he left Pitt to enter the NFL Draft.

“I was so close to it that it made no sense to not get it,” he said, in describing his return to academics. Jackson only had to complete two history courses to finish his degree. He was able to finish them online as he split his time between New Orleans and his hometown of Pahokee, Florida.

Jackson returned to Pittsburgh to attend the commencement ceremony, and when it was finally his turn to walk the stage and receive his degree, he couldn’t help but think of his family.

“My mother would’ve loved it, my father wanted me to get it,” he said. “I know they’d be proud of me.”

Jackson was a second-team All-American in his final year at Pitt, where he played on the opposite end of the same defensive line as Pitt legend Hugh Green. “He had the pride and the will to go back and get his degree, which shows the character that he proclaims within himself, which really represents us as a group,” Green said.

Even with all the accolades he’s earned — the Super Bowl ring, the Hall of Fame jacket and a place in the Saints’ Ring of Honor — Jackson feels his degree from Pitt stacks up with his finest achievements.

“I’d put it up with the Super Bowl and all,” he said. “This is something I achieved personally on my own, so I’d put it right up with that.”


— Nick France, photography by Adam Kilburn