I once heard the quote: “An arrow can only be shot by pulling it backward. When life is pulling you back with difficulties, it means it’s going to launch you into something great.”

I connected to this idea so much as a teenager that I ended up getting an arrow tattoo. To this day, I still look at it and hear the quote in my mind.

At age 17, I was a junior in high school, on my way to graduate. I found out I was pregnant and changed my focus from school to motherhood. Having my daughter pushed me to work harder. I got a job, and her father and I got our first apartment. She was our push.

At age 18, I decided to go back to school, determined to get my high school equivalency. Two months in, I once again became pregnant. I focused on working and saving money for the time that I would be unemployed and put school on hold.

At age 19, after having my son, I wanted to do more. I found a job as a tax accountant. My first day of my training was great, until I got home and got a call from my mother that my grandmother’s cancer was back. She passed away three months later—before she could see me start my new job.

At age 20, I became a tax accountant. I loved my job. Things were going great—so great that I decided it was time to go back to school. I worked out my schedule and planned to attend the next orientation, which just so happened to be the same day of the first COVID-19 shutdown.

With so much uncertainty, I feared I wouldn’t be able to work or go to school. I was fortunate enough to continue to work during the shutdown, and I was even promoted. Things were looking so much better for us, but I held off on enrolling in classes.

At age 21, I was working constantly. I found out that I was pregnant again, but I miscarried the following month. I worked through my pain and devastation because I knew the world wouldn’t stop spinning for me. Months later, I found out I was five months pregnant with our rainbow baby.

At age 22, I decided that I would have a career. I would have a forever hobby. But everything I wanted to do required something I didn’t have: a high school diploma. I looked at my partner and told him how low I felt and how dumb I felt for not finishing school.

He kept reassuring me that when the time was right, I’d get it. Every time, that’s what he said.

But every time I felt something was going right, life would pull me back. I was constantly reminded that I’m not invincible, and that was okay. I was also reminded of my resilience.

At the end of the day, I did it. I re-enrolled in classes at Olive-Harvey College this fall, and I earned my high school diploma the day before my 23rd birthday. This is my victory.

I hope that one day, my children will be able to refer to their mother’s story and remember that the greatest difficulties are preparing us for positive change.

Written by Alexis Cuadrado, Olive-Harvey College High School Diploma earner, 2022