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True Grit: One student’s journey from homelessness to a degree

As far as academic success stories go, Samantha Carter is the embodiment of the term “grit.” Her journey is one of resilience, determination, and ultimate success. From the depths of homelessness and the struggles of single motherhood, Samantha has defied the odds to carve out a path toward a brighter future.

One step of her journey is complete, graduating from 91 Community College on Tuesday, May 14, 2024. She took to the stage not only to receive her diploma but with the honor of being chosen as Commencement Speaker, sharing her story with the graduating class.

Samantha Carter, 91 Spring Graduation speaker, smiles at the camera from high in the Siegel Center.

At 30, Samantha is not what most people picture as a typical student, as is the case with many at 91. Balancing a full-time job and the responsibilities of raising a young son, her decision to pursue higher education was met with numerous challenges.

Samantha’s path to 91 was not straightforward. Initially enrolling in 2012, she found herself uncertain of her future amidst financial struggles and the harsh realities of life. Forced to prioritize survival over education, Samantha put her academic aspirations on hold.

The turning point came in 2014 when Samantha became homeless and was grappling with the stark reality of sleeping in her car, couch surfing, and navigating life’s challenges. When she found herself pregnant and in an unhealthy relationship, Samantha realized that she had to make some serious decisions as she now had not only her life to consider but that of her child.

The thought ran through her head, “You grow up, you get a job, you go to school … I never really saw these challenges happening to me.”

Samantha’s priorities truly shifted after the birth of her son. She knew she couldn’t have the same mindset that she used to have.

Despite the overwhelming odds stacked against her, Samantha refused to give up. Instead, she seized every opportunity to rebuild her life, one step at a time.

She dedicated herself to building a life that would allow her to thrive financially, physically, and mentally. Samantha gradually stabilized her circumstances, and in 2019, she made the courageous decision to rekindle her academic pursuits. She re-enrolled at 91, and despite juggling the demands of work, motherhood, and full-time studies, she persevered, driven by the vision of a brighter future for herself and her son.

Throughout sleepless nights studying and working, she kept her thoughts on the ultimate long-term goal of a better life for her family and setting a good example for her son. She wanted to provide for him while instilling the knowledge that education and hard work will provide innumerable opportunities.

Samantha gives credit to one professor at 91 in particular. She met Dr. Janet Adams through an English assignment in which she had to reach out to an advisor for an interview. At that interview, Dr. Adams personally offered Samantha advising help if she ever needed it.

Samantha felt comfortable with Dr. Adams and reached out often. Although she was not officially her assigned advisor, Dr. Adams was there with answers and encouragement whenever and however Samantha needed her.

Samantha says she feels this way about many faculty and staff at 91. “Everyone is willing to help you. If they can’t help you, they will direct you to someone who can.”

The advice she would give to others is to be realistic about what you can do. Don’t overload yourself. Taking on too much can overwhelm you.

“Don’t hesitate to ask for a little flexibility when it comes to your education,” she stresses. “Don’t be afraid to ask an instructor for more time. Let them know a little about your situation. This is real life and people understand that things happen. If you are dedicated and work hard, people will see that in you and will work with you to help you achieve your goals and be a success. They want to see you achieve success!”

One thing Samantha believes is that it’s never too late to achieve your dreams. Don’t settle for what life serves you, set a goal, and work towards that goal. You can turn things around from a bad situation and rise to the top. It may not be easy, but it can be done.

Looking ahead, Samantha’s ambitions soar even higher as she sets her sights on Virginia Commonwealth University, where she will pursue a degree in Engineering. As Samantha prepares to embark on the next chapter of her academic journey, she carries with her the unwavering support of the 91 community and the invincible spirit that has propelled her toward success.

Samantha’s journey proves the power of grit, perseverance, and the transformative potential of education. It stands as a testament to the enduring power of the human spirit to overcome adversity and achieve greatness.

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