By LaTonya Rose ’22

When I crossed the Cistern on Dec. 17, 2022, I became a first-generation college graduate. I almost didn’t make it. In fact, it took 20 years. My mom and dad always encouraged me to further my education. My parents didn’t even graduate from high school, but I was the salutatorian of my class at Burke High School in Charleston, graduating with a 4.7 GPA. I was recruited by the track coach at the College and received a full scholarship to attend in 2002. 

Everything was off to a great start – and then I got pregnant. I lost focus. Some people wanted me to abort my baby, but I would not. My grades started to decline, and I left school. 

After my son was born in 2003, I earned certifications and worked as a nursing assistant, dialysis technician and pharmacy technician. I have been in health care for 17 years now. Then, we all know what happened in 2020 – I couldn’t go to work. I couldn’t go to church, either, but I watched online. One Sunday, the pastor said, “Now is the time for you to do something you always wanted to do instead of just sitting around.” I also had this voice at the same time telling me, You’ve got to finish what you started. 

Anyone who knows me knows that I have a competitive spirit. I’m not a quitter, and I love a challenge. I decided to make my way back to school. I started taking classes at Trident Technical College and ended up graduating alongside my oldest son with an associate degree in May 2021.  

I returned to the College that August to get a bachelor’s in public health, graduating with honors and a 3.724 GPA. It was the best feeling in the world, yet so surreal. I am amazed at myself because I was also a full-time employee at the Department of Veterans Affairs, wife and a mom of four boys – and I never missed one of their basketball games. I even gave birth to a baby girl in July 2022 while
in school. 

This journey was not easy, but it made me stronger, wiser and better. I made it look easy, but it was all God. I kept the faith and have always lived by Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” 

I believed I could do it, and I achieved it. I not only did it for myself, but also for my family. 

I want to be an inspiration to others and encourage others to seek their dreams. I want to be a source of light for someone in a dark place. If I can do it, you can do it, too. The only person who can stop you from achieving your dreams is yourself. We all lose focus at some point in our lives and may have failures, but don’t let those failures dictate the rest of your life. 

I plan to further my studies by obtaining a master’s in public health/social work this fall at the University of South Carolina. There are so many determinants to health, but I want to help break those barriers. I want to become a public health leader who improves health, eliminates inequities and promotes positive change in my local community and other areas. 

Society often places limits, timeframes and age on everything, but it doesn’t matter how old you are or where you are in life; you can do whatever you put your mind to. I know that some may say, “Wow, it took her 20 years to get to this point.” But I say it doesn’t matter when you finish, but how you finish.