• Alyssa Henrion

Where It All Began

It was the summer before my junior year of high school when I found out I was pregnant. After months of morning sickness and a threatened visit from the truancy officer I decided to drop out. My fiance and I moved into a two bedroom apartment and prepared to start our lives together as parents. Shortly after my son turned 3 months I decided to finish school and get my GED. I studied hard and passed with flying colors. Shortly after his first birthday I decided that I did not want to give up on my dream of being one of the first college graduates in my family. I enrolled at a junior college in Clinton KY and traveled back and forth several days a week. Two months into the semester I began to have doubts about the school. I reached out to The University of Tennessee at Martin and found out that the school I was in was NOT an accredited school. I immediately dropped and applied with UT Martin. That was by far one of the best decisions I ever made.

Everything about that school spoke to my heart. The faculty, the campus, the students, the HUGE library....

Yes, I am a book nerd and proud of it. I spent much of my time at that campus studying Criminal Justice. (That's right. I didn't go to school for photography. In fact, it wasn't until 5 years later that I began my photography business.}

I remember the first time I walked into the sociology building at UTM. There near the office was a giant of a man dusting some items for fingerprints. His name was Dr Brian Donavant. A retired Lieutenant and one of the best CJ instructors on campus. I remember him standing up, towering over me, and asking me what I was doing there. I told him I was there to register for classes and that I was a new student. He asked what I majored in and I told him Anthropology. He quickly informed me that that was not offered at UTM and that if I followed him to his office he would help me. Dr Donavant always had a very demanding presence and let me tell you, I was very intimidated by him. Over the years, I learned so much from that man and all his fellow colleagues.

Being a new mom and a college student was in no way easy. It took me a lifetime to finally graduate. Not because I wasn't smart or because I wasn't a hard worker, but because sometimes school and studies had to be sacrificed for my family. My son was 5 years old when my daughter was born. I walked across campus every single day of that pregnancy and prayed to God every day that I did not go into labor during finals. (My professors prayed for the same thing). One week after final exams in May 2012 and my little girl was born! For the next year, I continued school before having to take a two year break due to financial aid. Both of my youngest children spent quite a bit of time on that campus while I studied. When I had to take time off I was devastated yet determined. On one hand I felt like I would never get that diploma that I had worked so hard for. On the other hand, it motivated me to do more so that I could! In January 2012 I opened my photography business. I started by offering $25 sessions with all images on a disc. I worked my tail off but the little extra money helped our family so much. I strived to do better, I prayed, I practiced, and I learned all that I could. Slowly my business began to grow and I began to be able to help pay the bills. During that time I began to save up for college. I wanted to go back and get that degree but it seemed hopeless. I talked with my Granny a lot during this time and she always told me that God would see me through it in His own time. She was always my rock and my biggest supporter. The year that she died, March 2016, I had all but given up hope on ever going back. Three months to the day that she died I got an email from UTM. They had a new program that would allow me to come back to school and finish in one semester! I guess Granny must of had a talk with God and nudged him a little on that plan. It was finally time for me to finish. In December 2016 I walked across that stage as a mother of three, a wife, a business owner, and someone who had finally achieved a life long dream! It was such a bittersweet moment because I wanted to share the news with my Granny but couldn't. It was also the moment I realized that I had spent almost 8 years raising my children around that campus. EIGHT LONG YEARS!

My refusal to give up on college fueled my determination with my business. Since graduating I have changed and grown my business to what it is today. That level of determination (some would even say stubbornness) is what keeps me going. My family is my why. I want to provide a better life for them and give them opportunities that I never had. They are the reason I breath and the reason why I do.

~Alyssa


#UTM #college #momlife #businessowner #UniversityofTennessee #Martin #Tennessee #goals



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