When she was 16 years old, words of wisdom were just background noises to Nakia D. Henderson of Lexington.
"You couldn't tell me nothing," she said. "And then I got blindsided."
By blindsided, she means she became pregnant. She found herself struggling to get up every morning to go to school and face what she perceived as condemnation as her pregnancy became more obvious, all while sorting through the waves of emotions that are inherent in pregnancy and being a teenager.
"I had this awkward feeling of walking around school with this belly," Henderson said. "Eventually I said, I don't want to go back to school. The embarrassment of it all. I was disappointed in myself, and my parents and family members were disappointed."
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According to data from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, 30 percent of teen girls who dropped out of high school cite pregnancy or parenthood as a reason.
Henderson dropped out of school and gave birth to her daughter, Ashley Henderson, when she was 17.
For two years, she learned how to be a mother, watched her friends go to prom, and gained a renewed appreciation for her mother and brother because of the support they gave her.
"My mom has been my biggest supporter," Henderson said. "I look back on it, and it makes me feel guilty that my mother put her life on hold to pretty much help me raise my baby.
"There were times when I was trying to figure out how I was going to pay this (bill)," she said. "She came up with money she didn't have. She won't ever tell me she didn't have it, though."
At 19, she got her GED. "I kept telling myself, I'm so much smarter than this," she said. "When I got my GED, I wasn't thinking any further than that."
That was a point in her life where many teenage single mothers go into automatic pilot: they exist, survive, but they don't live.
And that is where this story could end. The National Campaign data shows only 38 percent of girls who have children before age 18 get a diploma by age 22.
Henderson had beat the odds. Unfortunately, she was also another single mother living on the fringe of the American Dream, never daring to imagine being a part of it.
By all accounts, two-thirds of families begun by a young unmarried mother are poor. And two-thirds of teen mothers who move out of their families' households live below the poverty level.
Henderson had enough education to land factory jobs which brought in enough money for her to move out of her mother's home and into an apartment of her own with Ashley.
Henderson flirted with going to college, attending the former Lexington Community College with hopes of becoming a nurse.
"I went a couple of semesters, but my grades definitely didn't reflect my abilities," Henderson said. "I was working second shift, getting off at 11 o'clock at night and going to school at 7 in the morning and I had a 3-year-old at home. It was not working."
Data from the National Campaign shows that less than 2 percent of teen moms get a degree by age 30.
At 23, Henderson gave birth to her second daughter, Asia. She also landed a job at TRANE manufacturing company and settled in for about six years.
"I could pay my bills and take care of my girls," she said. "But after five or six years, I started thinking I don't want to spend the rest of my life in this place."
At 29, she enrolled at Eastern Kentucky University, and began the drive to and from Richmond while working part-time at Cardinal Hill Rehabilitation Hospital.
Meanwhile, she was touring colleges with Ashley. At a college fair, Ashley became interested in Midway College. So did Henderson. They both applied. They both were accepted. They both received scholarship offers.
"I got accepted first," Ashley Henderson said. "Here is the small school that wants me. I was going there for a biology degree."
A few days later Nakia Henderson received her letter of acceptance. That's when Ashley decided to attend the University of Louisville. "I said, we can't go to the same school," she said.
Ashley works as a nanny in Louisville and has volunteered at Hotel Louisville, a homeless shelter, since she was a freshman. She also tutors at a community center where she encourages other children of single mothers to focus on their education.
"It sounds cliché, but I did it, and my mom did it," Ashley said. "We didn't have much of nothing. There were times we shared the same bed. And now, we just graduated from college 17 hours apart."
Nakia Henderson graduated from Midway College on May 9 with a degree in psychology and Ashley graduated from U of L on May 10 with a degree in public health.
Considering the children of teen moms do worse in school than children of older parents and that those children are less likely to finish high school and are more likely to have behavioral and delinquency problems, Ashley also beat the odds.
"It was the happiest and busiest weekend I've ever had in my life," Nakia Henderson said. "It was a long hard road, but I was determined to get it done."
They both are about to start work on their master's degrees.
Ashley Henderson, 22, hopes to earn her doctorate in public health with a concentration on single mothers and children, maybe opening an emergency homeless shelter and teaching the moms to think bigger.
Nakia Henderson, 39, hopes to counsel young mothers. "I want them to know it does get better," she said, "but you have to do it. No one can do that but you.
"I teach my girls you have to want it," she continued. "I can't want it for you. No one could want it for me. I had to want it of myself."
The adage still holds true: With hard work, you can do what you want to do and be who you want to be. Determination trumps stats.