Four years ago, Nicole Harvell sat in her freshman year classes and considered dropping out of high school.
Her parents were dropouts, she reasoned, as well as her older brother. Nothing was keeping Harvell in school except her "Paw-Paw," who had talked to Harvell and her parents about the importance of an education.
When he died during her freshman year, Harvell moved in with her grandmother, who also encouraged Harvell to continue high school.
"If it weren't for her, I'd be out of school," Harvell said. "She gave me a car, a phone and a computer and she said she'd take it all away from me if I quit."
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
For awhile, that was motivation enough for Harvell, but after her freshman year, Harvell was motivated by more than just her grandfather's wisdom and her grandmother's gifts. She realized that without a high school degree, getting a job would be difficult, if not impossible.
She dreamed of working at a preschool or day care, and knew that finishing high school would be critical to realizing that dream.
Getting up every morning was difficult, Harvell said, as was keeping up passing grades. It was a daily struggle for four years.
"But you have to be [in school] to pass, and you have to pass to graduate," Harvell said.
By her senior year, Harvell had more motivation to graduate than ever. Her boyfriend - now husband - Donald Totherow said he wouldn't marry her unless she finished high school. Three months ago, when graduation seemed a certainty, he kept his promise and the two were wed.
On Friday, Harvell, 17, accepted her diploma as the first person in her family to ever graduate from high school.
"Everyone is shocked," Harvell said. "They love it. It feels good."
From here, she considering options that include looking for a full-time job and - just maybe - furthering her education someday.