“Do you plan on even finishing high school?” This was the question I was asked when I found out I was pregnant my Senior year in high school with only 3 months until graduation. With a 3.96 GPA and college offers flooding in the mail daily including Carnegie Mellon, UC Berkeley, Ohio State, and several other colleges, this was considered the failure of my life. My parents were disappointed; my friends shocked; and I was left with a huge question mark as to what my future would hold. Instead of taking my Senior year graduation vacation in Hawaii, I was growing physically and losing perspective mentally.
I decided to take a customer service job at an insurance company owned by Prudential, so I would have insurance to cover the cost of my pregnancy and for my daughter that was soon to make her appearance. Over the next several years I took jobs that were stepping stones to make money to cover my needs and gradually teach me small aspects of different industries from Chase Bank to the Department of Defense. None of these jobs were what I desired to do and certainly not what I thought I would be doing after graduation. There was no fulfillment in my career, just money to get by.
Fast forward twenty years to January 2013 when I took my daughter, Brianna, to her college orientation session to register her for college. It was the day I never had. This was a proud moment for me to see my baby girl start college. As I sat and listened to all the offerings of the college, I thought, “Look at what I missed.” This is when I took a very uncomfortable, life changing step. I enrolled in college at the age of 38 and started that term pursuing a degree in Business Management.
It was not easy. I scheduled classes around my work schedule and my children’s schedules. I sat and did homework with my three children daily. I think they thought is was cool mom was in school but also knew it took up a great deal of time they desired. I was usually the oldest person in the class surrounded by students that were my daughter’s age. At times, I did not relate to their conversations, life goals or outlook. That intimidation caused me to be silent and not say anything on occasions. A degree was the goal so I kept on studying and pushing to the finish line.
One day a professor challenged me to step outside of this silent box and become the President of a new club they were chartering for business students. I was reluctant but interested. With her as an advisor, we grew the club and took several students to Regional and National conferences to learn business acumen, networking skills and how to present themselves in a professional manner. Soon I was speaking in front of the ALPFA Orlando Professional chapter to report the growth of our chapter and learning from professionals with high ranking jobs at New York Life, BNY Mellon and Deloitte to name a few. Through this experience I have gained a great mentor who is a Senior Partner at New York Life in Orlando and became the Director of Academic Affairs for the professional chapter.
Now as I am set to graduate in less than a month, I reflect upon all the great stepping stones that have been laid before me in my unexpected path in life: the challenge of college which pulled me out of my comfort zone; the Entrepreneurship classes which gave me the courage to think outside the box and inspired me to start my own company (Thank you, Dr. Cameron Ford!); and all those that thought I would never be anything but a girl who got pregnant in high school and flushed her opportunities down the toilet. All these experiences have molded me to be the confident business woman that I am today. Also they have helped me be the example to my four children that college is important and can be done at any age. You must simply have the goal, put in the work and never stop being challenged to step out of the box.
On Friday, November 2nd, I signed a strategic alliance with a national company that will partner with my start up business, Kentarus Group Inc. The office building will be ready December 1st and business is already coming in before we officially open our doors. As a building contractor and roofer, we will help those in Central and North Florida keep Orlando beautiful by restoring and building their homes and businesses. The business skills I have learned while at the University of Central Florida have been used to get me to this amazing place in business. I will always be grateful to all those that have given me the skills and knowledge to be where I am today…and I’ll be forever a Knight.