AnnaLisa Hightower, a senior nutrition and dietetics major, overcame a lot of personal and social hurdles to pursue her education.
She dropped out of high school and then got addicted to drugs.
“I should have graduated high school in 1986. I probably dropped out of high school in 1985. I thought that I was bored,” she said.
After dropping out of high school, she took two classes at the University but didn’t finish them.
“I just stopped going. It still shows on my records today that I got a D in one of those classes and an F,” she said.
She said that at that time nobody ever told her that she could have had those wiped, had she done it within a certain amount of time.
“So those grades are still following me around. I got involved with partying and you know high school and it got out of control, so I became a drug addict and alcoholic that I struggled with through my young adult age,” she said.
But during that phase she also became a mother, she said.
“I was married, in an abusive relationship. After fourteen years of that relationship and rough marriage, I got out of that, because I found a note in my second oldest’s bed one day saying ‘save me from my father,’” Hightower said.
She was “35 or 36” when she filed for a divorce.
She said that, after the divorce, she realized that she could not support her children by just working at Wal-Mart.
“I had been a stay-at-home mom up to that point. My husband at that point was a business owner and was doing quite well. So we could afford for me to be a stay-at-home mom and drink,” she said.
She said that after filing for divorce she also realized she wouldn’t get far without an education.
She said that supporting three kids on Wal-Mart wages was an uphill task.
“So, I decided I needed to go to school. Luckily, when I dropped out of high school, I had enough foresight to do my GED right away. So I had that,” she said.
At 37 she applied to CNM, but she still did not know what she wanted to do, she said.
“The easiest thing to do for me was to go to nursing school. So that is how I signed in to college. But that was not what I really wanted to do, and I don’t know why I wanted to go into nutrition, except for that was always something that intrigued me. And, within my first semester in CNM, I made my major,” she said.
She transferred to UNM after spending two years at CNM, she said.
She says she has a lot to celebrate.
“I am excited; I have never graduated before. I just celebrated 10 years clean and sober on April 23,” Hightower said.
She said that she has been working in her field for “probably” five years.
She will complete her degree in nine years as she has been going to school part-time.
“There was a brief time when I was able to do work study and go to school full time. I have a full time job at a hospital real close to the University. I am really excited,” she said.
Sayyed Shah is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @mianfawadshah.