What’s stopping you? Student finds the will to succeed after life takes unexpected turn

Mary Huggins first enrolled at TCC after high school, but an unhealthy relationship led her to leave college. When she unexpectedly became pregnant, she returned to TCC and changed her life. Today, she helps students stay on track to reach their goals as an academic advisor at TCC Northeast.

I was 20 and in a very toxic relationship when I got pregnant with my first daughter. I wasn’t brought up in that type of environment, where you aren’t married and have a baby. I was thinking, “I’m either going to sink or swim.”

The entire time I was pregnant with her, I was basically on my own. We were actually living together, and he didn’t provide anything. He didn’t work. So everything was on me (on top of being pregnant). A couple of months after Jasmine was born in August 2004, I moved back in with my mother. There was a lot of reconciliation I had to do with my parents because of the toxic relationship I was in for two and a half years. I burned a lot of bridges and kind of strayed from my family during the relationship because there was this tension. After I had my baby and moved back in, I had to repair all those relationships. And there were some circumstances I had to abide by in moving back with my mom. I had to get my life back on track.

Back when I had graduated high school, I actually started college at TCC Southeast. I dropped out maybe a year into it; I did really well, but in that relationship other things were more important. I ended up dropping and was like, “School is not for me.” Of course, that all changed when I had my daughter. I was working a retail job, and I remember thinking that this was not going to cut it for the rest of my life.

I enrolled back into school at TCC Southeast in spring 2005 on a full schedule. I got on WIC [the Women, Infants and Children program], which provided healthy food, and once I went back to school, I was able to apply for CCMS [Child Care Management Services], which is child care for people with low incomes. I hadn’t gotten a job yet, and my mom kept saying, “You need to work at TCC; it would be really convenient for you.” I was a broke college student and single mom, so I needed to be wise with my decisions. I didn’t need to spend a lot of money on gas, so I decided to get a job at the bookstore. That’s where I met one of my best friends to this day. We had almost the same identical story; our kids are two months apart and she also lived with her mom. That was support I definitely needed.

For me, missing class wasn’t an option. From the moment I became a mom, I was bound and determined to give my child as normal a childhood as I could give her. So I was going to work my tail off, and part of that was, “I’m going to go to class; I’m not going to miss school, and I’m going to take this seriously. I’m going to make these grades, because what I do now essentially is going to provide her with a better future.” So I became that student who would email the teacher all the time and ask questions. Yes, every semester it got overwhelming. It was rough taking 12 hours, being a mom and working part time. I’m 22, 23 – half the people in my classes, they didn’t have kids, not people my age, and so my friends, they might go to happy hour; well, when I left work, I would go get my baby. I would go home and take care of her, put her to bed at 8:30 p.m., and then start studying, then start homework and then start doing what I needed to do to get ready for the next day. I had classes at 8 a.m., so there was a lot of sacrifice and a lot of sheer willpower. I wasn’t a coffee drinker back then, so I think I just relied on being young and resilient. The biggest thing I had to tell myself each semester is, “You can do this. It’s going to be hard, but you can do this.”

My life was all about balance—being a mom, taking care of Jasmine, making sure her needs were met, scheduling doctor appointments, remembering doctor appointments on top of classes and finals. I remember carrying around the syllabuses for each of my classes so I could remember what was due and when it was due. I don’t even know how I did it. How does a 21-year old remember all that? But I did. I had to register for school, make sure my FAFSA (federal student aid) application was on time and turned in. Those types of things were important because that determined my future. If I missed something or screwed up, that fell on me, and I wasn’t going to allow anyone or anything to stop me from making my goals. Life was different now. I had a human being I was now responsible for.

After two years at the bookstore, I took a job in the testing center. And I kept working toward my degree, taking well over 60 hours at TCC Southeast before I transferred to UTA (The University of Texas at Arlington). I graduated with my undergraduate degree when Jasmine was five years old, and I graduated with my master’s when she was seven. Once I earned my bachelor’s, I got a full-time position in testing at the new TCC Trinity River. Since I’d already been working at TCC, it just felt like home. My boss there, Richard Vela, was pretty amazing. He looked out for me and he knew my story. He was super encouraging for sure. And he would call me out if I didn’t make the best decisions. He would say, “Mary, you have to do better,” and I would be like, “I know, I know.” I will always be grateful for that. Sometimes people can be judgmental, but he never judged me.

In 2011, the advising job at TCC Northeast opened up. I will also be forever grateful to Condoa Parrent, my current boss, for giving me this opportunity. When I became an advisor, my salary doubled. That was major for me. It allowed me to do so much more for myself and for my daughter. When I saw my contract with my new salary it was very emotional, because I knew in that moment that all of my hard work had finally paid off. I actually teared up. Condoa did too.

I like working with college students. I think I can appreciate everything that goes into being a college student, the sacrifice, and I want to help push students to get through it. I can relate sometimes on a personal level that maybe not everybody can. Students appreciate that.

I really feel like our institution is super beneficial. I believe in community college. I believe in TCC. It’s a great education, and the fact that it’s so affordable is unbelievable. My oldest is definitely coming here!

Basically the end of it would be that I’m really enjoying life. Both of my parents have said, “We’re proud of you, you’re successful, you’ve done amazing. We couldn’t have asked for anything better.” Of course that makes my heart happy. But I’m also proud of me and where I am. Yes, I got pregnant at 20; I wasn’t married. I didn’t have a dime to my name, but somehow I pulled through. I’m married now. I have another baby. I am a homeowner. I bought my first new car, straight off the lot, zero miles last year. I have a really good credit score that I’m very, very happy about. And I know those things are funny and maybe even miniscule, but to me they matter because I worked my tail off for it.

I always say my oldest child saved me, and my baby gave me new life. Because the oldest one saved me, she saved me from myself, from a toxic relationship, because I don’t know that I would have left the relationship if I hadn’t gotten pregnant. She saved me from going down the path I was going down. I chose to put myself in that environment, but I wouldn’t put her through that. Now that I’m older and more established, I can really take it in, and seeing things through my new baby—it’s awesome. It’s almost like having a kid for the first time all over again.

I love advising. Students who come in now, especially single moms—my heart just tends to reach out to them, because I get it. I’m like, “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do.” Life isn’t always easy. People just can’t give up. You have to keep pushing forward and have some faith. It’s definitely possible.

Students can access help to reach their goals by contacting a TCC academic advisor:

Northeast: 817-515-6661
Northwest: 817-515-7788
South: 817-515-4558
Southeast: 817-515-3590
Trinity River: 817-515-1055
TCC Connect: 817-515-8025

This story is the latest in the What’s stopping you? series, celebrating members of the TCC community who don’t let challenges get in their way.