When Christian Williams walks across the stage this Saturday to accept her diploma, the moment will be filled with joy, some tears, and a bit of nervousness.
That’s because for Williams, 32, graduation is the end of a 14-year college journey that’s come with the challenge of raising seven children, supporting a husband with epilepsy, and finding her life’s purpose.
“I have dreamed about hearing my name and walking across the stage,” Williams says. “I am a first-generation college student, so I want everyone to be proud of me. This is history in the making.”
Williams began college similar to other young people. She applied and got into Clayton State University in 2004 and kicked off her first year with hopes of studying nursing.
“College was kind of hard. But I did survive my first year,” she remembers.
But by the second year, things changed. Her husband had been diagnosed unexpectedly with epilepsy at the age of 19, and as a young couple, life became a series of trips in and out of the hospital to diagnose his condition.
The two persevered, but faced another setback in 2006, when Williams experienced a miscarriage with her second child.
“I broke down,” she recalls. “I went through, and I suffered from depression for a couple of months.”
College took a back seat. She struggled to eat and began to lose a tremendous amount of weight. Her hair fell out, and she began to withdraw from her husband and her daughter.
“When we first lost the baby, I blamed myself,” Williams says. “There were days where I didn’t get out of bed.”
She eventually sought counseling and leaned on her faith, her church, and her family to overcome the tragic loss.
“I just began to pray harder,” Williams says. “This is not what God wanted me to do. He did not want me to give up.”
A year later, Williams and her husband received a blessing when she had her third child, a son.
“I held him so tight, I did not let go,” she says.
Motivated to get back on her feet, Williams earned two associate degrees–one in early childhood education and another in middle level education.
Between going to school and becoming an assistant manager at a local retail store, Williams quickly realized she desired more for her life.
So, in 2016, Williams came back to where it all started, and applied to Clayton State. This time she focused on teaching.
Attending college with a growing family was not easy.
Williams said she missed out on important moments in her children’s’ lives like her daughter’s county track meet and her son playing football and soccer.
She also had to balance the demands of her husband’s epilepsy. Now 37, her husband takes anywhere from 7 to 10 pills a day and lives with a device implanted near his heart that sends shocks to his brain every five minutes to reduce the seizures.
Williams says because of the seizures, which number between 2 to 10 at any given week, he can’t be left alone. But his mom, sisters, and the occasional nurse support his needs.
Still, Williams wouldn’t have her life any other way.
“It’s all because of God, really,” she says. “I don’t know how I would’ve pursued. I believe God puts on you what you can handle. He injected my husband in my life for a reason.”
Williams says her children have supported her every step of the way, including her youngest two, who she calls her “super fans.”
“When I come home they tell me, ‘did you do your homework?’” she laughs. “That’s so funny to me. They keep me on it.”
Williams says her children are her biggest motivators, and as the first in her family to earn a college degree, she feels responsible for showing them that anything is possible.
“Every child came with a different testimony, a different struggle–patience, determination,” Williams says. “That’s [been] my passion–just showing my kids that hard work, determination, God’s prayer and His unwilling power, that you can achieve your goals,” she said.
Upon graduating with a bachelor’s in history with secondary education certification, Williams hopes to find work in the Atlanta area teaching middle or high school students.
She also wants to find more time to spend with her husband and children to pay back for the sacrifice they made to see her earn her degree.
In the future, she wants to pursue a master’s and a doctorate in education. But for now, Williams is thrilled to see one chapter of her life–which she calls a “novel”–end and another begin.
“You don’t know what you can do until you go through something, but there is an end goal,” she says. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”