Texas Tech University

Keeping Her Eyes on The Prize

May 10, 2024

Keeping Her Eyes on The Prize

The path to a Texas Tech diploma has not been easy for Hannah Nichols, but she never gave up, thanks to her young daughter.

There was a time, not so long ago, when Hannah Nichols could have packed up her hopes and dreams and settled for whatever life might be willing to toss her way.

But then she would peer into the sweet eyes of her then-infant daughter Avalynn, and her future aspirations would be rekindled. She knew deep down in her mother's heart that she could do this.

There's a line from an old song that seems apropos here: “That's all it took, just one look.”

Now, years removed from an unplanned pregnancy as a 16-year-old high school student, Nichols is on the precipice of securing a bachelor's degree in psychology from Texas Tech University. After shouldering a 19-hour load this semester, she will walk across the stage during the College of Arts & Sciences commencement ceremony.

Those steps, which she has been anticipating for the better part of six years, will be the most rewarding ones yet because of what they represent – a tangible reminder that persistence pays and hanging in there matters.

“My college journey was not just a personal goal,” Nichols said. “It was a dedicated commitment to creating a brighter future for my daughter and myself. Every lecture, every assignment, every late-night study session, and maybe some tears, were all driven by the motivation to provide her with opportunities and a stable foundation for the life she deserves.

“Although I have struggled at times, the image of my daughter's smiling face and the future ahead for us is what fuels my determination to keep going. I remember thinking this day would never come, but I promised myself and my daughter that I would never quit.”

Hannah Nichols
Hannah Nichols

It has been a long, demanding and non-traditional trip for Nichols, a first-generation student who was raised by adoptive parents, grew up in Lubbock and graduated from Coronado High School in 2018.

It was during high school that she got pregnant, and while that was a scary and uncertain time in her life, it was also when she grew more determined about getting her education. So, she buckled down and finished high school early. Then, after taking a year off, 19-year-old Nichols started attending classes at South Plains College.

“My education was very important,” she says while lifting a hand to her necklace. The jewelry is adorned with a large letter “M” for “Mommy.” “I decided to stay here in Lubbock, where I had the most support because my parents are here. It's just me and my daughter.”

Arriving at Texas Tech

After completing her basics and earning an associate degree, Nichols transferred to Texas Tech. While it was her initiative, drive and discipline that carried her through on the academic side, she's also quick to credit her family and faith for playing vital parts along the way.

It wasn't long, though, before something else unexpected happened. The COVID-19 pandemic took hold, scrambling everything, including plans for attending college classes in person. Once she finished at South Plains College, Nichols immediately moved to Texas Tech.

“The pandemic made the move a little hard,” she said. “There was a lot of isolation and fear, but I just held onto the belief that everything would eventually fall into place. I think my journey reinforced my belief that, no matter the obstacles I might face, things indeed will get better. I am grateful for my accomplishments and know the Lord has been the guiding force behind every victory.”

Nichols admits the pace has bordered on frenetic as she focused on earning the two degrees as rapidly as possible. She's ready to catch her breath now, which means moving on to pursue an advanced degree isn't in the immediate future, nor is it off the table. At one time, she thought about becoming a child psychologist, but she isn't as sure about what's next. 

She feels like she needs some intentional in-between space in her life to decide.

A lot of that is because it is Avalynn's turn to start pursuing an education. Having recently turned 5, the youngster is discovering the wonders and joy of kindergarten.

“I want to work on my master's degree,” Nichols said. “But I also think that all of this has come so fast. My daughter just started school, too, so I have to think about that. I've heard that once you stop, it's hard to go back, but mentally right now I feel like I need to take a step back and get adjusted so I don't get burned out.

“Maybe that will help me really figure out what I want to do next. There was a time when I thought I knew, but that has kind of changed.”

When Nichols arrived on the Texas Tech campus, she wasn't sure what to expect as a first-generation student and a young, single mother. However, any trepidation was soon allayed.

Finding her place in the busyness

Despite Texas Tech's large size and growing student population, she said she never had trouble accessing resources or getting questions answered. In the midst of all the movement on a bustling campus, she never felt alone in her educational pursuit.

“I think it can be hard for a lot of first-gen students,” she said. “It can seem really hard and confusing, and you may feel like you don't know where to start. But one phone call to an adviser here, and they are so helpful. You won't be lost. Reach out and they will guide you. That's what happened for me. Not only have my academic skills grown, but I have gained strong confidence that goes beyond college.”

That was only part of it, though. Nichols said her classes were challenging, but faculty members were supportive and encouraging throughout her time at Texas Tech. For her, the path to success was blazed largely because of consistent and reliable two-way communication.

“Texas Tech was so big, and when I looked around, it seemed like no one else had a kid,” she said. “But it is not as scary as it looks from the outside. My professors were great. I just communicated with them up front, and they were so helpful. It has really been a blessing. I found everyone here to be super welcoming.

“There were days I did not want to go to class. I'm not going to lie, but I was so close to finishing, I told myself I had to keep going. Toward the middle of every semester I would think, ‘I can't do it,' but then I'd get my grades and say, ‘I did it again.”

As this chapter of her young life draws to a close, Nichols hopes her unique journey can serve to inspire others, encouraging them not to give up on their dreams. That is especially true if someone else is counting on them.

Nichols has learned to be proud of her story, particularly the aspect that it might differ from the personal narratives of everyone else. This six-year arc has given her new insights into the vastly underappreciated and important art of being kind to herself. 

She said more than a few young moms have contacted her for advice. They wonder how she managed to do it. They ask about the secret sauce in her life, and she has been happy to share from her experiences, hoping they might propel someone else toward a successful journey that mirrors her own.

“If I knew then what I know now, I would tell myself to cherish it all – the good, the bad and the ugly,” she said. “Through all of that you will learn so much about yourself and become the strong person you are meant to be, and don't forget to congratulate yourself for having the courage to keep going.

“I hope my journey serves as an inspiration for others facing similar challenges. Whether you are a young or single mom or just struggling to believe in yourself, I want them to know their dreams can become reality and they are achievable. Never underestimate yourself.”

Because that is the only way to get where you want to be.

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