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Two Grads Plus Dad

The McKenzie Family Has Three New College Graduates

Other than graduating from University of Idaho and the College of Letters, Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) together, the stories of Jon McKenzie, his son Carson and his daughter MacKara couldn’t be more different.

Jon waited more than 20 years to see his dream of earning a college degree come true. He’ll earn his B.S. in Interdisciplinary Studies after returning to college through the CLASS initiative Vandal Finish, which helps former U of I students who left school without a degree return and earn their diplomas.

Carson will obtain a B.A. in Film and Television. He also stayed on the Moscow campus for his education — the only one of the trio to do so.

MacKara might have been the busiest of the three while in school, earning two degrees – a B.S. in Psychology and a B.S. in Communication – in only three years. She accomplished this while attending classes virtually from her home in Coeur d’Alene, where she lives with her husband Ikeka Sebastian and their daughter Kalea.

“I’m very proud of the hard work dad has put in to finish school,” Carson said. “But my decision to come to U of I was different than his and probably different than MacKara’s. We’re proud to be Vandals but we have different paths we want to take after graduation.”

Marvel-Ous Future

After commencement, Carson will be shooting for the stars. Specifically, he wants to shoot movies with movie stars. After he moves back home to Coeur d’Alene for a few months, he’s planning on relocating to Atlanta to dive head-first into a film career.

“Atlanta is a really good area to be in the film industry, especially if you’re looking for a production job,” he said. “A lot of college graduates head down there, find a production set and start working their way up.”

Photo of man with shoulder-length hair.
Carson McKenzie.

Carson eventually wants to direct films — his dream job would be directing a Marvel Comics-type production — but understands he’ll need to start at the bottom to rise to the top.

He credits his time at U of I with not only preparing him for a career in filmmaking, but also with giving him the confidence that comes with completing his degree.

“My family has a lot of U of I connections but I wanted to make sure being here was right for me,” he said. “I needed to know I could make it on my own merits so I could be proud of what I accomplished.”

Creating a Healthy Idaho

Being a full-time student and a full-time mom kept MacKara busy – but she plans to be even busier after she graduates.

Her plans are to work in a mental health-related environment while she looks for an online master’s degree course in psychology. Her ultimate goal is to start an organization in Idaho dedicated to finding healthier and more effective treatments for mental disorders in addition to counseling services.

While she waits to get a job in her field, MacKara has been staying sharp by practicing psychology — and reverse-psychology — on her dad.

I’m very proud of the hard work dad has put in to finish school. But my decision to come to U of I was different than his and probably different than MacKara’s. We’re proud to be Vandals but we have different paths we want to take after graduation.

— Carson McKenzie, senior

Both MacKara and Carson agreed that Jon has been “too stubborn” to ask for, or accept, any help with his schoolwork. According to MacKara, she even had to cajole him into re-taking his LSAT test to get into law school after he receives his undergraduate degree.

“His scores were less than he wanted so he told me “Well, I guess this isn’t meant to be — I guess I’ll just drive a truck for the rest of my life’,” she said. “So I messaged him right back and said ‘Oh, well I’m having a hard time finding a graduate program I like, so maybe I’ll just quit.’ He got the message and re-took the test.”


Jon’s story is a wild ride – obtaining a GED and starting college at Spokane Community College in 2001, dropping out to be a full-time mechanic, enrolling at North Idaho College in 2014, dropping out to start a heavy equipment and construction business, then finally attending online classes at U of I.

Photo of woman with red shirt.
MacKara McKenzie.

But perhaps the most interesting part about Jon’s journey isn’t how far he’s come, but rather what’s driving him to continue his journey and his desire to get accepted into U of I’s College of Law.

In 1995, one of Jon’s immediate family members was executed at the Montana State Prison for first-degree murder and kidnapping. Jon, who wasn’t yet born when the crimes took place, became interested with the legal proceedings during the appeals process.

Jon’s wish is to become a prosecutor so that he can protect those living in his community, just as he did during his stint in the U.S. Army. Jon’s wife Jessica ’21,’23, whose graduation last year gave Jon the final push he needed to complete his undergraduate work, is an assistant trial court administrator in Kootenai County.

“He was a guilty man and received a just punishment,” Jon said of his family member. “My desire is to serve my community and ensure that my granddaughter will be able to grow up in a safe and healthy environment.”

Four adults and one child wearing Vandal gear outdoors.
Jon, Jessica, MacKara (with Kalea) and Carson McKenzie.

Article by David Jackson, University Communications and Marketing.

Courtesy photos from McKenzie family.

Published in April 2024.

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