Learning to Overcome


At 20 years old, Tianna Quiller has learned the art of balancing schoolwork, family, friends and more. And she learned it all nearly three years ago while going the extra step to become a high-achieving International Baccalaureate (IB) high school graduate while struggling with homelessness.

The Marietta, Ga., native and special education major said her family became homeless just before she began her senior year at Marietta High School after her mother unexpectedly lost her job. In the months that followed, Quiller and her family lived in hotels, stayed with friends and eventually moved to a homeless shelter. She also woke up extra early to catch a city bus to her school bus stop because her family didn’t have a car, and sometimes went without running water.

But despite the challenges she and her family faced, Quiller stayed positive knowing their situation wasn’t permanent.

“Honestly, and I know this doesn’t sound right, but it wasn’t hard,” she said. “Nothing is hard, you just have to take it one step at a time. And nothing is supposed to be effortless — if you put effort into what you do, then you’ll get what you want. Yes, sometimes you will cry, and weeping may last through the night, but joy comes in the morning.”

Knowing the importance of education, Quiller diligently worked to obtain her IB diploma, which is similar to an Advanced Placement (AP) diploma, only with international standards. She took courses just like any other high school student would, but the IB course standards took those classes to the next level, requiring in-depth essays, community service projects, critical thinking and more. Though it was a more difficult route, she knew going the extra mile would be well worth it for her future.

“In a situation like that, you don’t want to think about where you are, so you think about where you want to get. I knew doing normal college preparatory work wasn’t going to help me get scholarships or help me go where I wanted after graduation,” she said. “I knew thinking about where I would sleep at night was not going to help me get good grades or help my family get out of the situation we were in. So I was kind of able to compartmentalize and focus. When I was at school I was at school, and when I was at home — or wherever I was — I would think about it then.”

Quiller considered leaving Marietta to be with her extended family in Thomaston, Ga., but said, “I felt like it was important to be with my mom and brother, to make sure my brother was okay if my mom had something to take care of,” she said. She also knew finishing her IB diploma wasn’t possible in Thomaston. So she stayed to finish her education and did her best not to let anyone know the struggle she and her family really faced.

“I feel that you have to do what you’ve got to do, and I’m not one to complain,” she said. “I was still able to go to prom, thanks to my grandma, and I was able to do everything a high school senior should do — I just had some other priorities.”

She went on to graduate from Marietta High School in 2012 and enrolled at Mississippi State University. After a year there, she wanted to achieve her goal of becoming a special education teacher and reading specialist by coming home and attending Georgia Southern.

“There is just something about being home and being around people who have things in common with you,” she said. “There is also something to be said about experiencing people who come from different backgrounds who have completely different stories, and I love that. But there is just something about being home — nothing beats it.” – Crissie Elrick

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