Busy as she is, the chance to address her graduating class is one Holly Latter of Stellarton could not pass up.
A mother of three who drives to Dartmouth daily to finish a two-year industrial engineering program, Latter can see graduation on the horizon.
“The classroom component is just finishing up so I’ve got projects and a work placement and then graduation in June,” she said.
She’s managed an average of 85 or over and only recently learned she was chosen as valedictorian for the trades and technology graduation at NSCC’s Ivany campus.
“I’m going to tell them hard things are very possible. Things may get harder than you can even imagine but you can find ways to get through if you just keep going.”
Latter is hoping graduation will mean the two hardest years of her life are behind her.
“I am hoping it is going to take us to a turning point in our lives. My goal is to find a job that will mean a better life for the kids and me.”
Being valedictorian never crossed her mind when she graduated from East Pictou Rural High School before going to St. FX to study English and psychology.
“I loved the experience of university so I don’t regret having gone but it was very different from what I am doing today and I am very different, too. I didn’t give it my all and it wasn’t so personal.”
Even before starting university, her hope was to become a teacher but she had to settle for low-paying jobs when she was unable to get into X’s education program. Marriage and children tied her to Pictou County where she spent years working at a variety of part-time jobs.
“At one point, I had three part-time jobs and I was trying to sell Mary Kay cosmetics which I wasn’t cut out for at all. I wasn’t making much money and I was away from the kids way too much for what I could bring in. I started to feel trapped.”
Even when she found jobs she enjoyed, as in working in automotive service departments, she could see a lack of credentials would prevent her from getting ahead, either in terms of additional hours or promotions. By the time she made up her mind to go back to school she’d been laid off from a part-time job and her marriage was strained.
“I started school the first year with the kids at home with their dad and me getting a room in Dartmouth for four nights a week. That didn’t work out very well and it would have been easy to give up school but I really believed it was going to be worth it in the long run.”
Latter and her husband separated and her parents pitched in where they could to help.
“The first year was extremely stressful for the kids with the breakup of the relationship and everything that went with that. I couldn’t uproot them from their school and supports so travelling back and forth daily became my only option.”
Latter’s days begin at 4:30 a.m.
“I get up and get myself ready for school. I make the kids’ lunches and set out their clothes and what they are going to need for the day. I call the kids at 5:30 a.m. and by 6 a.m. hopefully, they are all up, getting dressed and having something for breakfast.”
By 7 a.m. she drops Jesse, 13, Chase, 10, and Cara, 6, with a friend in New Glasgow who drives them to school in Thorburn.
“She makes my days possible by taking the kids early so I can get on the road. She has a son who goes to school in Thorburn so she drives my three along with him. There’s not a day I’m not grateful to have her.”
Her children attend an after school program in Thorburn and she is also grateful to another friends who accommodates her late pickup.
“It is usually 6:15 before I can get to Thorburn so keeping the kids late for me is something else that has made it possible for me to finish my program.”
Latter said she has found a lot of support in her two years in school.
“I’ve been open with my instructors about the challenges of the past two years and they have been very supportive. I’ve had a lot of people help where they can and it doesn’t ever go unappreciated.”
By the time she gets the kids home and has supper on the table, it is already getting close to bedtime for her younger children.
“I really try to keep those couple of hours totally focused on the kids, even though I have homework. That’s when we talk about our days and plans. I don’t try to hide the fact that things are tough right now because I want them to be able to deal with adversity in their lives but I don’t want them to feel all my worries, either.”
Her oldest son has one evening activity and his paternal grandmother gets him to and from, for which Latter is again grateful.
Recently she and other female classmates talked to school students about women in technology.
“We suggested girls keep up their maths and sciences, even those who don’t find them interesting right now. There are jobs you may not know about in high school and many of them involve technology. Problem-solving and improving efficiencies are well-suited to women.”
When Latter has time to dream she thinks about taking her children on trips.
“They want to go to Disneyworld, of course, but I think of other places I might be able to take them some day.”
There is still one major obstacle in her path.
“A job, I’m so ready for a decent job and so willing to work hard.”