Tracy Reese is ready for a better life.
Twenty-two years ago, Ms. Reese, now 40, quit school when she became pregnant with her first child. Since then, she has had three more children and has been living in government-subsidized housing projects as a single mother on disability.
But after encouragement from a friend, in 2007 Ms. Reese went back to school to get her General Education Development diploma.
"I wanted to have a better life for me and my kids, and I wanted to set an example for them," she said.
On June 17, Ms. Reese donned her cap and gown and marched across the stage at James Brown Arena in Augusta to receive her GED from Augusta Technical Institute.
"It was one of the best days of my life. It was a great accomplishment for me," Ms. Reese said.
All four of her children attended the commencement, along with other family members, a close friend and people from her church, the House of God Church of God in Christ.
"They were hollering for me and cheering, saying 'Go, Tracy, go!' and I didn't even know they were there until I heard them," she said.
Her youngest, and only daughter, AppleLynn, 9, is a fourth grader at Norris Elementary School and helped Ms. Reese study for her GED tests.
"I think it was a good choice for her to go back to school," AppleLynn said. "I helped her study for the final. I called out all the questions, and some of them she got wrong, but most of them she got right."
In GED classes, Ms. Reese said a lot of her classmates were teenagers who referred to her as "mom." And on days she didn't have a way to get to class, one of her teachers would come and pick her up.
"I've been through a lot of stuff in my life, a lot of struggles," she said. "But I claim Philippians 4:13, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,' and my faith in God helps me. He's helping me every step of the way."
Not satisfied with just getting her GED, Ms. Reese continues to seek the life she's always dreamed of. As soon as she passed her GED tests, Ms. Reese began taking Criminal Justice classes at Augusta Tech in Thomson.
"It's always been my childhood dream to be a lawyer because I like proving things," she said. "One day, I'm going to be one of the greatest attorneys in the courtroom."
When she first saw the classwork, Ms. Reese said she "cried a little bit" because she thought it'd be too hard for her. But she accepted the challenge and has been on the Dean's List at the school ever since she began the classes last fall.
She said she studies late in the evenings after cooking dinner for her children and early in the mornings before going to school. The subjects include police reports, legal vocabulary, writing out crime scenes and establishing creditability of witnesses. But the most difficult assignment so far has been research papers.
"I didn't have any examples to go by," she explained. "So, I just had to come up with it on my own. Some of the others in class laughed at my illustrations, but I've been making A's. I have a passion to do it. ... I'm willing to do whatever it takes to reach my childhood dream."
And just like she was hoping, she is inspiring her children. In addition to her daughter AppleLynn, Ms. Reese has three sons -- Justin, 22, graduated from Thomson High School with honors and works at Wal-Mart; Shawn, 20, received his GED around the same time his mother did; and Zadray, 13, is in the eighth grade at Thomson-McDuffie Junior High School.
"I'm real proud of her and I'm glad she's doing it," Justin said. "I know she has always wanted to do it. I've been proud ... because she's been doing good since she started."