URBANA — Charddonnay Jackson's academic career has been a road with many potholes.
She was in and out of local high schools, took care of her siblings when her mom went to prison, had a baby and faced other challenges.
But this spring, Jackson's taking part in not one but two graduation ceremonies.
She earned her Urbana High School diploma through Urbana Adult Education's Adult Performance Level Program and will walk in its graduation ceremony tonight.
Jackson also graduated from Urbana Adult Ed's certified nursing assistant program earlier this month.
Jackson, who is 20, is the first woman in her family to graduate with her high school diploma. Earning the GED requires taking a test, but a diploma proves she spent the time and worked hard to finish high school.
"It's everything to me," Jackson said. "I didn't short-sell myself."
Jackson's academic career before Urbana Adult Ed included being expelled from Central High School in Champaign and attending an alternative school in California because she got in trouble with the law as a juvenile.
There, she was able to catch up to junior level.
After moving back, she was able to go back to Central. But she began falling behind as she faced challenges in her personal life.
She was pregnant and struggling with morning sickness. Her mom went to prison, leaving her to care for her younger teenage siblings.
By her junior year, she'd basically dropped out.
Later, Jackson decided to go back to Central, but struggled. Her class had already graduated.
Tiffany Gholson, a social worker at Central High School, told her about Urbana Adult Education, and she and Urbana Adult Ed counselor Arlene Anderson helped Jackson get in last fall.
Jackson heard about Urbana Adult Ed's CNA program in January, and learned she'd need her diploma by March to enroll this spring.
So Jackson buckled down and finished it, even a little early. She did so by picking up homework packets in advance, careful to get enough work in case she wasn't able to come back for a while.
She liked that the program understood that as a parent, she'd need a flexible schedule. It also allowed her to work at her own pace.
"I didn't have to wait for everyone else to get there," as in a traditional classroom, she said.
Through the eight-week CNA program, she learned the importance of being on time.
As she studied in the program, Jackson worked at FedEx Ground at night, until 2:30 a.m. She'd sleep three hours and was on the bus by 7:30 each morning to get to class or clinicals by 8:30 a.m. Her daughter, Charojhine, who's 2 now, stayed with Jackson's mom during the week so Jackson could focus on work and school.
Jackson credits her daughter with helping her get motivated to finish her high school education and continue on into more nursing school.
"I don't want her to be the one who has limited opportunities because of what I did as a parent," Jackson said.
Jackson's ultimate goal is to earn a doctorate in nursing and a master's degree in business administration. She hopes some day to open assisted-living houses for teenagers who have children or are going through other struggles.
Jackson said her daughter wasn't planned, and she'd encourage anyone thinking about having kids to make sure their lives are together beforehand.
Along with being a mom, Jackson is also grateful to workers at various agencies who have helped her along the way, including those Urbana Adult Education, the Education to Work program and others.
"If it weren't for all those other people helping, I wouldn't be able to make it through," Jackson said.
She said she's grown up a lot over her journey through high school, and she admits she sometimes made things harder on herself.
However, her more recent experience has taught her that hard work pays off with success, she said, even through the toughest of circumstances.
"It's OK to mess up in life," Jackson said. "You can always fix it. I know if I can make it through all that, I can get through anything. It's just another speed bump."
Tammie Ruff , who is the director of community services at the Housing Authority of Champaign County, runs the Education to Work program, which recruits high school seniors each year and works to help them graduate.
"I'm very proud of her," Ruff said. "She's overcome many obstacles."
Jackson will graduate from Education to Work on Saturday, Ruff said.
Several agencies have collaborated to support Jackson, Ruff said, and Jackson has been successful by using those resources and through sheer determination.
"She's a very unusual young lady, in the circumstances and the problems she's overcome," Ruff said "She's just been focusing on the goal and knocking down these major obstacles in her life. She's not allowed them to hinder her and hold her back."
Anderson said Jackson is bright, task-oriented, has a good attitude and doesn't get angry quickly.
Despite the circumstances and challenges in Jackson's personal life, Anderson saw her determination to get her diploma.
"It's easy to give up if you have problems like that," Anderson said, and she and others warned Jackson it would be a lot of hard work to finish her diploma in time to take the CNA class.
"She had that determination to do that," Anderson said.
Gholson, the social worker at Central High School, said even as Jackson struggled, she learned to be a strong advocate for herself.
"She going to be a very good and strong advocate for someone else," Gholson said, and has already shown her younger siblings what success looks like. "She's been a good role model."