A graduate’s journey


Chantilette Franklin

Tatiana Clark will graduate with an Associate of Science degree at the end of June and plans to study nursing at the University of Texas at Arlington this fall. Photo by Chantilette Franklin/The Et Cetera

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The air conditioner was broken at the call center where Tatiana Clark worked during the summer of 2019. She had to ask permission to use the bathroom and eat lunch. And the pay was $11.50 an hour.

She knew it was time for a change. 

“I just got tired of it,” Clark said. “I was like, ‘you know, I’m better than this.’”

She quit her job in August 2019 and enrolled in Eastfield’s nursing program. A week later she was a full-time student.

Clark, 26, will graduate with an Associate of Science degree on June 26.

“I’ve been looking up cap decorations so I can decorate my cap and gown, and then I’ve been looking at places where I can take pictures,” Clark said. “I’m just so excited. … This will be my first time ever walking the stage. [I’ve gone from] high school dropout to college graduate.”

Clark found out she was pregnant her senior year of high school. When she heard the news, she said she cried and cried, but she knew the unborn child was a blessing from God.

When her son Jeremy was born shortly before the end of the school year, Clark, who had been an honor roll student, made the difficult decision to drop out to take care of him.

Clark’s mother, Tabitha Riverson, said her daughter dreamed of working in the medical field ever since she was a little girl.

“She always said she wanted to take care of kids, she wanted to be a pediatrician,” Riverson said.

Clark put the dream on hold to focus on her family. Four years later her second son, Kameron, was born.

[READ MORE: Scholarship student sews her way to success]

Clark said her children are her greatest motivators and the reason she chose to go back to school. She also realized no matter how much job experience she acquired she would need a college degree.

She earned her GED before she left the call center and threw herself into her nursing studies.

“I’ve never wanted my kids to know that I was a quitter,” she said. “Because if I dropped out and I just gave up, then I’m giving them the example that it’s OK.”

Riverson said she was surprised but supportive when Clark decided to go back to school.

“She has come a long ways,” Riverson said.

Clark said she didn’t just slide by during her time at Eastfield. She took a maximum load of classes every semester and was invited to join the Phi Theta Kappa honor society. PTK students have to maintain a 3.5 grade point average and be committed to the four principles of scholarship, leadership, service and fellowship.

PTK adviser Sharon Cook said she was impressed with Clark’s involvement, even though there were a limited number of in-person activities for members to participate in due to the pandemic.

Clark was one of two students who showed up to help the PTK leadership team with a resource drive to restock Eastfield’s Honeycomb Cupboard food pantry with personal hygiene items and cleaning products last November.

“The fact that I had students like Tatiana who gave up their Saturday afternoon to volunteer meant a lot to us,” Cook said. 

Clark worked a few hours each week as a home health care assistant. Evenings and weekends were for her family, and the rest of her time was spent working toward her degree.

Clark wanted the satisfaction of walking across the stage to receive her diploma, but she heard graduation would be virtual due to COVID-19. Then as COVID-19 vaccinations became widely available in Texas, Chancellor Joe May announced in-person ceremonies were being planned.

“For our students, college graduation is a defining moment in their lives,” May said in an April 28 email. “The pomp and circumstance, the well-earned payoff after years of hard work and the impending first step on life’s next journey.”  

Clark signed up for the in-person ceremony as soon as she received the email invitation.

[READ MORE: In-person graduation planned for class of 2021]

Her parents, fiancé and Jeremy will accompany her to the ceremony. She said Jeremy is looking forward to her graduation more than she is.

“When I showed my son my cap and gown, he got so excited,” Clark said. “He’s my biggest fan.”

Jeremy said he’s seen his mom study and knows how hard she has worked to get to this point.

“I’m very proud of her,” he said.

Cook said the pandemic has made this an especially difficult school year. She and the other PTK advisers are proud of what their students have accomplished, especially knowing their stories and the challenges they face.

“I think all of our hearts will be swelling, just emotional … to see them walk across the stage,” Cook said.  

Clark said she is not planning to stop learning any time soon.

In the fall she will study nursing at the University of Texas at Arlington. Eventually, she would like to further her education and become a pediatrician with her own practice.

But more than anything, she said she hopes her educational achievements will inspire her sons.

“I just want them to know that you can do anything in life,” Clark said. “If you don’t believe in yourself, nobody else will.”