Kentucky State University graduate Tomma Chenault crossed the stage recently during the Spring 2018 Commencement Convocation.
Life has thrown nearly everything possible her way since she began her academic journey, but she persisted.
“My faith in the Lord carried me through, along with my children,” Chenault said.
Chenault, from Frankfort, laughs when recounting the number of obstacles she’s encountered in her life while pursuing a degree.
She nearly failed out of school her sophomore year, she said, because her two oldest children were graduating from eighth grade and high school.
Her brother got sick during her junior year and needed a heart transplant.
“I felt like giving up and fell into depression,” Chenault said. “I got out of it with the help of friends and loved ones.”
She ended up pushing herself to succeed even harder that semester and made the dean’s list. Her brother finally received the transplant and is doing well.
This year, Chenault’s senior year, her mother was diagnosed with stage four cancer.
“I was her caregiver around the clock, taking care of two households, a job, school work and being a sports mom,” Chenault said. “It tore me down, but I still kept pushing.”
Her children motivated her to keep going and have done their best to support their super mom.
“They dealt with my crankiness from late nights completing homework and getting up the next day without a wink of sleep,” she said. “There have been days they tried their best to sit still and quietly so I can get a few hours of sleep.”
Chenault credited interactions with professor James Thornton for helping her academic progress.
Thornton gave her a grade she didn’t like on an English paper, so she went to his office to ask him why, which led to her asking for advice on a paper later in the semester. He marked up the paper, which she didn’t like, but pulled out the first paper she’d asked about. Look at your progress, he told her.
“I was in tears when he pulled out the first paper but he told me to read it,” she said. “I did and I laughed about it. My response to him was, ‘What was I even writing?’”
Chenault said Dr. Stephen Ulrich and Dr. Charlos Thompson were also instrumental in her success.
“They were like father figures and kept us in line because there was a time to play and a time it was all business,” she said.
After graduation, Chenault said she plans to work as a counselor for children and teens while continuing her current job. She plans to sit out a semester and then enroll at the University of Louisville to get a master’s degree in social work.
Chenault referenced a Helen Keller quote regarding her success: “Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”