Can I testify real quick?
So begins Janet King’s Facebook hosanna in December upon her graduation from NIU, a journey longer than most, complete with a plot twist halfway through its tale of determination.
Her story, a preface to her newly begun graduate studies in the NIU College of Education, opens in 2012, when she first came to DeKalb from the northwest side of Chicago to major in psychology.
King wanted to become a high school guidance counselor, one who works with teen mothers as a reassuring voice and support system as they try to navigate their new reality while still earning diplomas.
But something unexpected – something ironic – happened before she could complete her degree.
It was the fall of 2015, and she was pregnant. Her GPA tumbled to 1.8, and although she was near the finish line, she dropped out. Probably wouldn’t even have graduated had she stayed, she says now, considering the emotional stress.
A’Kyah, her daughter, was born in 2016.
“I felt like a disappointment, not only to myself but to my family,” King says. “It was honestly really hard. I do know a lot of women – girls – who were pregnant, even in high school, and they stayed in high school. Or in college, and they stayed. Failing my baby put me at a low.”
The story could have ended there, an unwed mother and her precious child, surviving through love for one another while a dream went unfulfilled, a potential unrealized.
Less than three years later, however, the pair began to write their happy ending.
I came back Fall of 2018 and I was little discouraged because I was caring for a little human full time … she got sick a few times, I got sick a few times, classes were hard, I had to bring her to class a few times, and I didn’t even think I was going to finish because I felt like I couldn’t do it … but GOD had other plans for me! He held me EVERY step of the way and told me “You got this my child!!!”
Returning to NIU with purpose, King began her climb. She was not alone, of course.
“Erin Reid, my academic advisor in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, helped me to pick classes. She made sure that not only did I pass my classes but that I stayed on top of them,” she says.
“All of my professors allowed me to bring my daughter to class with me – I didn’t have daycare at first – and that was really helpful. Not a lot of professors would do that, and doing that for me really helped me. I didn’t have to miss a lot of days,” she adds. “They also met with me outside their office hours if I couldn’t go because I didn’t have daycare then, or I could bring her to office hours.”
Daycare eventually came at NIU’s Child Development and Family Center.
“A’Kyah was with me all her life, and for the first couple weeks there, she cried. They told me it’d be OK. Now she loves it there, and I don’t have to worry,” King says.
CDFC Family Coordinator Dahlia Roman quickly “helped me out a lot by giving me the Child Care Access Means Parents in School Program grant that allowed my daughter to attend daycare without me having to pay out of pocket.”
Friends from S.I.S.T.E.R.S. “will call me almost every day to check up om me, ask if everything is OK, if I need them to come over and watch A’Kyah.” Her peers from the parents group, meanwhile, “allowed me to branch out and meet some mothers who aren’t in school yet.”
“This one girl I met, through another mother who’s in college, is on the verge of going back to school and trying to finish school with a baby,” King says. “We talk about how hard it is. It is hard.”
Yet that challenge comes with joys.
During her years away from NIU, King worried about the example she was setting for her daughter.
“When I was home every day, I really wanted to change not just my life but my daughter’s life,” she says. “She’s growing up, and she’s going to be looking at role models and people she wants to be like, and I wanted to be that good role model for my daughter. I wanted to prove to her that no matter what she lives through, she can achieve anything she sets her mind to.”
A’Kyah already has proven herself ready and capable of that outcome.
“Even though I set my alarm clock for 6:30, she’s the one who always wakes me up: Good morning, Mommy. I hope you’re going to have a good day,” King says. “She’s very smart for her age. Mommy, did you go to class today? ‘No, I didn’t have school today.’ Do you have homework? Now she tells me, I have homework. She’ll get her little coloring book and her crayons and go, I’ve got homework too, Mommy.”
Psychology coursework leapt from the classroom and textbook with immediate applications at home.
“I took a lot of child development classes, which helped me understand my child through different eyes and not just a parent’s eyes. How to deal with tantrums. Autonomy, when a child wants to start doing things herself. How they’re able to distinguish between shapes,” she says.
“When will she start writing her name? When will she start speaking a little better? When will she start jumping up and down? She’s been my little lab rat, my little guinea pig,” she adds. “It’s taught me a lot of patience, how you as a parent really affect their development. I might slip up, but I really try my best. I’m a first-time mom. These classes showed me a lot about my child and myself.”
Her GPA also rose, from the 1.8 she was carrying when she left in 2015 to 2.7 by the time of commencement.
And, during that Dec. 15 ceremony, A’Kyah remained at her mother’s side and wearing her own tiny cap and gown. That was only fitting, King says, considering how A’Kyah went almost everywhere on campus with her, including to the library during Finals Week.
“It was an amazing feeling to have my daughter there. It was really like she graduated,” King says.
“I wanted to cry, but I had to keep my composure. When I did her cap, I kind of cried. She said, You did it, Mommy! ‘No, we did it, baby.’ Just having her there really made me feel good. It really made me feel I accomplished it,” she adds. “Hopefully, when she gets older, this will be a little more motivation for her.”
So take from this when I say with God ALL THINGS ARE POSSIBLE! He truly will bring you out of a storm you thought you wouldn’t come out of! Because I NEVER thought I would walk that stage with my child but GOD did!
It was a stage crossed more than a decade ago by Janet’s sister, Corinthea, who earned her NIU bachelor’s degree in public health. It was a stage crossed hours later that same day by Janet’s brother, Stevon, who completed his NIU bachelor’s degree in accountancy.
And it was also Janet’s conquered mountain – as well as A’Kyah’s.
With the pair’s new chapter beginning in the College of Education’s M.S.Ed. program in Curriculum and Instruction – “I want to learn how to be that teacher that children can actually learn from, and not just achieve so they can move on to the next level,” King says – that motivation is only growing.
“Coming back was the best decision I made. I came back stronger. I passed all of my classes. I brought my GPA up,” she says.
“My family is really proud of me, and a lot of people have shared with me that I’m an inspiration to a lot of young girls,” she adds. “To go back, and to finish, after being gone for three years? A lot of people don’t go back, even after one year. I should feel proud of myself!”