College had always been a dream of mine, but for most of my life, it was something that was out of reach, you see I didn’t even have a high school diploma.

Since 1986—the year I quit high school—I have lived with the shame of not finishing school, in fact, I was so embarrassed that for 30 years I told very few people my shameful secret—I was afraid of being rejected. I thought others would look at me differently if they knew the truth. I was a prisoner of my own shame and secrets.

For years, my mother begged me to get my GED, and a few times I would start the process and then quit because I was paralyzed with fear. I just couldn’t face another failure in my life—I thought I wasn’t smart enough to even pass a high school equivalency exam. I was broken, beat down, and emotionally defeated—this was the way I perceived myself for years. However, all that changed in 2012 when I decided I was going to get that college degree and nothing would get in my way. And nothing did.

I reset my life. Although I had my sights set on earning a college degree, I still had to get to the starting line, and that meant obtaining my GED.

I decided to create a timeline for myself. I bought a GED study guide, saved the money for the test, and registered. I studied in every spare moment I had, not telling anyone what I was doing. I took the test and passed every section but math; however, I didn’t let that discourage me. I took a few more months and studied day and night, retook the math portion and passed! At 43 years old, I earned my high school diploma—I made it to the starting line—the possibilities were endless.

With pride (and my high school diploma in hand) I registered for classes at the local junior college. Within a month, I found myself sitting in my first college course. I felt a sense of pride that I had never felt before, and although my mother was no longer alive, she was certainly with me whispering “I’m proud of you Jill.” Over the next two years, I soared to new personal and academic levels. I earned my AA in education and graduated with honors. In 2015, I was accepted to the University of Central Florida where I would finish my degree in English Literature with a concentration in pedagogical writing and rhetoric.

On the morning of Thursday, May 4, 2017, I received my Bachelor’s degree in English Literature from the University of Central Florida. With a GPA of 3.9, I graduated in the top five percent of the College of Arts and Humanities—Magna Cum Laude. It is a moment I will never forget.

In September 2017, I will continue my love of learning as a graduate student at The University of Miami on an academic scholarship where I will work towards a Master of Arts in Communication. The fear of failure is no longer a part of my mindset and complacency is not an option.

I want to share my #reset with other women—particularly those that feel they have no options and have lost hope in themselves. Now that I have graduated, I have started my a publishing company—Empowerment Publishing — specifically focused on the works of women’s stories: poetry, prose, fiction, and non-fiction. Additionally, my ultimate goal is to continue building my non-profit organization (The Empowerment Project) assisting and encouraging women to create better opportunities for themselves and their families through literacy programs, career preparation, and parenting classes at no cost for those in need.

My advice to you beautiful ladies is this: this is your time, your life and you can do anything you put your mind to. You can #resetyour life!