Heather Most was terrified about coming back to school. But without a degree, the single mother of four young children knew she had probably gone as far as she could in her career. She also had something to prove.
Years ago, the 35-year-old Hanover resident made the decision to drop out of high school – not because she couldn't do it, but because, she says, as a teenager she was busy having fun. While she earned her GED soon after, that decision continued to haunt her and left her feeling less capable than she actually was.
"I always felt like people looked down on me when they knew I didn’t finish high school," Most says.
Along the way, she thought about furthering her education, but was busy working and raising her four young children – now 14, 9 and twin 8-year-olds. When she finally found herself back in the classroom four years ago, she was plagued with worry over whether she would do well while trying to manage the demands of her family and a full-time job with the federal government.
"I was afraid that I wouldn't understand anything and that I would be viewed as a big dummy. The first night of the first semester, I was like 'I can’t do this!' I was sick to my stomach walking in, but I got through that semester with two A's and I thought, 'I can do this.'"
She readily credits some of her professors, like Joyce Ezrow, her business communications professor for her first semester at AACC, with getting her through.
"I was filled with self-doubt and worked myself up into a panic, and she (Prof. Ezrow) was like, 'Calm down, you're so hard on yourself. You've got this!' Prof. Ezrow got me through that first semester and gave me the advice and courage I needed."
While she says the A's began "to pile up," she's quick to point out it wasn't easy; it took a lot of hard work, too little sleep and sacrifices away from her family. Most knows exactly what she gave up – missing football games when she had to study and birthday dinners when she was in class - but she was determined to do her best and made school her priority.
She also used her experience as an opportunity to show her children the importance of hard work and getting an education.
"I didn’t have any confidence in myself. It was hard and I made a lot of sacrifices and gave up a lot, all in the hope that they pick that up, all in the hope that they realize how important education is."
She encourages anyone else who may be thinking about going back to school to go for it.
"You have to want it, you have to work hard and you have to make sacrifices. If I can do it, working the entire time, raising four kids, I don’t see why anyone else can't," says Most.
As she delivered her valedictorian speech before the Class of 2015 this past May, her children were seated front and center with their eyes on their mother. She's proud to say all four tell her they plan to go to college, and the younger three "all want to be valedictorians!"
When she returned to school, she wanted to prove to everyone else that she could do it. Now, she has proven it to her self.
"I needed to do this for myself. I never thought I would be here; I can’t even put it into words."