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Michelle Edwards: Not A Lot Of Room For Excuses

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Michelle Edwards is a resident of Dumfries, Va., and the principal at Orr Elementary School in Southeast D.C.
Michelle Edwards
Michelle Edwards is a resident of Dumfries, Va., and the principal at Orr Elementary School in Southeast D.C.

I wasn't a favorite child: I was dark-skinned with bad hair. I didn't feel very loved and didn't get personal attention from anyone. I met my father for the first time at the age of 9, during a visit to see him in prison. He spent only two months of the 27 years I knew him outside those walls. My mom was a rebellious teen. I was one of many cousins that my grandparents had to raise and protect because our moms were on the streets.

At 13 I was forced to live with my mother, who really didn't want me. For the next five years, I spent as much time as I could away from home -- playing volleyball, singing and finding people I could stay with.

At 14 I enrolled in a job-readiness course and began working. I took myself to the doctor whenever something was wrong. I chose my own high school, one far from where I lived. I chose college prep classes and made myself a strong student.

A near-death experience at 17 catapulted me back to my grandmother and eventually into the arms of my son's father. The positive pregnancy result came months before graduation. I almost failed my senior year. I was scared, and I thought I would allow my mom to raise my child. But the minute I saw his beautiful little face, my decision and life changed.

My son and I moved 65 miles away to Northern Illinois University. I took courses in education by day, and read books about time management and work/life balance at night. I was determined not to ask anyone else to raise my child. I didn't want him to ever feel like he was being raised by a teen mom.

I set his sleep schedule to my study schedule. I worked in the library, and he sat behind the counter reading his own little books. If he got sick I brought him with me to class. He'd sit at a little desk outside the door with his snacks, pencil and paper. I had to find a way to be good at whatever I did because I had to provide a stable life for both of us.

I became a teacher and got my 5-year-old into a school for gifted kids. From then on, he went to the best schools. His teachers always knew who I was. He played sports, and there was always someone on the sidelines screaming for him.

Today he's finishing up his third year at Fort Valley State. He's a math and engineering major on a full scholarship. He's on a wonderful journey.

He had the childhood I didn't. And he was the catalyst for me being able to do what I needed to do. My grandmother always told me: "Where there's a will, there's a way." There's not a lot of room for excuses. You just have to figure it out.

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