There were plenty of times when tears of frustration would fall, nights Quinthia Hall would be awake at 3:30 a.m. struggling with a homework assignment.
Some nights she would wake her daughter from a sound sleep, crying and pleading for help.
"I don't know what I'm doing," she would tell Deandria. "I need your help."
"Momma, you can get it," Deandria would answer. "I can't do your work for you; you have to do it."
And she did.
There were plenty of times Quinthia wanted to quit, times she just wanted to forget about going to T.W. Josey High School each night after an eight-hour shift in the mailroom at International Paper. There were times she just wanted to sleep.
Her teacher, Wayne Foster, scared her. He called her chicken. He kept giving her so much work and she would say to herself and even to him, "How am I going to keep up?"
"Didn't he realize I'm like a kindergartener and he was trying to feed me 12th-grade work?" she would think to herself.
"I can't do this," she would tell Mr. Foster.
"Yes you can," he would reply.
"But Mr. Foster, when do you expect me to do this?"
"When you get home."
"But then I won't get no sleep."
Quinthia Hall, a 42-year old divorced mother of four, decided to sacrifice sleep for studying. On Thursday, 26 years after dropping out of The Metropolitan School in Dallas and two years after enrolling in Richmond County's Evening School program at T.W. Josey High School, she will finally have her high school diploma.
"I saw that she had the potential," Mr. Foster said. "She was so close, and I didn't want her to let go. I wanted her to keep going with her education. She knew it was important - she just needed to be reminded from time to time."
Quinthia knew Mr. Foster was right. The reasons he gave her for continuing her education were the same reasons she came back to school in the first place.
"When you get tired of disappointments in life, you finally stop and ask yourself, 'What's the problem?"' Quinthia said. "The problem was me. The problem was I did not complete high school. The problem was how could I further my education if I had no education ... I had learned from the knowledge of other people, but I did not have the credentials to show what I had learned, and in order to further myself, I had to have my high school diploma."
Quinthia was born and raised in Dallas. At age 15, she became pregnant. At 16, she married Jimmie Hall, her high school sweetheart and the father of her child, because her father told her to. "Look, I'm just going to sign the papers for you all to get married - just meet me downtown," she remembers him telling her.
She tried to stay in school after she got married, but there were bills and baby sitters to pay.
In Dallas, there was an alternative school, The Metropolitan School, for people who couldn't afford to be in high school.
"But I didn't have an adequate way of getting there," she said. "I ended up dropping out.
"I felt like I had disappointed my dad. Especially when I got married. From there, you know, things were OK, I found a job, but it was not what I really wanted to do."
She was cleaning motels and making about $100 a week.
"And at 16 and 17, who's going to lease you an apartment?" Quinthia said. "Jimmie was making $200 a week. That's not enough to raise a family."
She soon got another job. This time she was cleaning offices and filing paperwork at Union Special Sewing Machine Co. The ladies in the office, sisters Mary Dee and Marie Dickerson, showed Quinthia how to use the computer and taught her data processing skills, which helped her land a better-paying job doing data entry work. Quinthia remains grateful to the Dickerson sisters to this day.
One of the other women who worked with Quinthia at Union Special, a woman named Agnes, asked her how she was going to work full time and take care of two children.
"Easy," Quinthia told her. "I've already raised my first one."
"What?" Agnes asked her in disbelief. Quinthia's oldest child, Eric, was 4 at the time. "Honey, you don't know what it is to raise a child."
Quinthia said she now knows she didn't know anything back then.
"Agnes taught me a whole lot," she said. "She helped me to understand life has value to it, that it's not about being at home with children raising a family. If you're going to be out there in the world, it's about getting your education ... ."
A new start
After 2 1/2 years of marriage, four years of separation and five years of trying to make the marriage work one last time, Quinthia's relationship with her husband ended in divorce.
She and the children, Eric, Deandria, Jimmie and Clayton, moved to Augusta a year after Quinthia's mother, Annie Warner, moved to the area in 1988.
Over the next few years, Quinthia realized just how hard it is to get a job and prove to employers that she has skills without the paperwork - the high school and college diplomas - to back it up.
"I was disappointed in myself," she said. "I felt like I was shortchanging myself, and I finally woke up and took a reality check of myself and said, 'How could I keep complaining about my job if I am not trying to do anything about it?"'
The answer became clear after her oldest son and her daughter graduated from high school.
She would go back to school.
The first day was filled with fear, fear of the other students - some so much younger than her - fear of the coursework, fear of failure.
"I didn't know what to expect, and after I went I realized it's not that bad," she said. "I learned to be myself and make sure I got my respect and to give the kids theirs."
Family pitches in
A few days before Quinthia returned to school, she sat down with Deandria, Jimmie and Clayton and told them some things were going to change.
"I know I need to be a mother as far as cooking and stuff," she told her family. "But if there's food in there for you to eat, go in and try to help yourself. Don't depend on me to have to do it all."
The laundry duties would change, too.
Quinthia would sit in front of the washing machine on a Friday or a Sunday night, her nose in schoolbooks, while the children separated colors from whites.
"What do we do next,Momma?" Jimmie would ask.
"How much do we put in there momma?" Clayton would ask.
Quinthia would look up and tell Jimmie what to do next and tell Clayton how much to put in.
"That's how we did it. It's like I told them, it's teamwork," she said. "In order for us to get it done, we gotta do it together."
Jimmie, 16, Clayton, 13, and Deandria, 22, who now has a child of her own, gained an appreciation for what their mother was trying to accomplish and how difficult it was.
"A lot of times, we was like, at first, like always trying to leave and not really sit down and get family time," Jimmie said. Then, he added, "... we sat down and pitched in with each other and helped each other out and we grew closer as a family."
Because she was embarrassed and a little insecure, few of Quinthia's co-workers or her employers knew she was going to school. If someone asked, she told them, but if they didn't, she didn't offer.
To make it to her 4 p.m. classes, Quinthia had to leave work a half-hour early. There was only one way to do it: come in early. So instead of getting to work at 8 a.m., she came in at seven.
She would get up at 5 a.m. to make it to work by 7, leave work at 3:30 p.m. to make it to class by 4, and leave school at 8:30 to be home by 9 p.m.
Then it was time for homework.
"There was no time to wind down," she said.
She struggled. She stressed. She survived.
The next step
"I've learned a lot from her and the struggles she's dealt with in her life, raising four children alone, working two jobs and going to school," Deandria said. "It was a lot on her."
Quinthia's principal, Wynette Bradley, said seeing her students reach their goals is very fulfilling.
"Our mission is to recruit those students who have dropped out and people like Quinthia, who are committed to an education and giving themselves a better life ... It's just rewarding to see the smile on her face," Ms. Bradley said.
"I'm happy, I'm proud," she said. "I feel like I finally completed a goal and I passed. I really didn't expect to do it. I really didn't. It's really unbelievable. I feel like I missed out on a lot, not having someone to be there to say, 'Don't worry about it, I'm here for you.'
"I was always there by myself, trying to struggle to make sure that they had a good life."
Quinthia's mother told her she should give herself a rest and take a year off before going after her next goal - a degree in computer technology from Augusta Technical College. Quinthia will not hear of it.
"I told her, 'You might be comfortable with the way your life is, but I'm not comfortable with the way my life is. I want more for myself, and the only way to get it is through education."'
Reach Justin Martin at (706) 823-3552.
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