In her speech to fellow graduates of Augusta Adult Education, Jennifer Tantoco plans to talk about being motivated, no matter what obstacles come along.

It’s a subject she knows a thing or two about, and she hopes to pass her wisdom on to the three young daughters she has with her high school sweetheart, husband and biggest supporter, Rolando.

Tantoco, 30, dropped out of Waterville Senior High School as a 17-year-old junior to help her mother — a single mother working nights — raise her two young children. She enrolled in adult education classes soon after she left school.

Friday night, 11 years and multiple failed attempts to pass a required mathematics examination later, she’ll graduate with a high school equivalency certificate as her family watches. Even before that graduation, she’s already moved on to higher education, simultaneously taking classes this year at the University of Maine at Augusta during the day and taking adult education courses at night.

She said pursuing those dual educations at the same time has been difficult, both for her and her family, as she has been a full-time mother to daughters Kimora, 8, Nevaeh, 7, and TiLynn, 4.

“The only thing they don’t like is when I’m not able to be there to put them to bed (because she’s studying), but I think they’re proud of me,” Tantoco said of her daughters. “They’re a huge motivation for me. I don’t want them to think, just because something in life is hard, you can’t do it. I want them to know you just have to put the time in and work for it.”

Tantoco is on the dean’s list at UMA where she got an A in a mathematics class. That’s significant, given that a mathematics test kept her for many years from being able to obtain her high school equivalency. She passed all the other tests she needed to take, but not having had any algebra in high school, she couldn’t pass the mathematics test.

That was until last year when realizing she needed help to pass, she signed up for a 12-week mathematics class with Guy Meader, who teaches in adult education and, as his day job, is also a teacher at Gilbert Elementary School. With his help, she learned mathematics well enough to pass the test.

Tantoco, of Hallowell, graduates Friday with about 52 other adult education graduates in the auditorium at Cony High School.

“He’s amazing. I learned so much from him,” she said of Meader. “He took the time to teach me and made me feel comfortable enough to ask questions. He took the time and when he did, I was able to pass.”

She learned she had passed via a message sent to her computer that she read with her daughters at her side. She said she cried and cried at the good news as they hugged her.

Zane Clement, director of Augusta Adult and Community Education, said Tantoco was asked to speak at graduation because of the perseverance she showed in pursuing her education.

“She has been at this goal to complete high school for a long time,” Clement said of Tantoco. “Her attitude and belief in herself, it’s inspiring and a story we felt, if she was willing, worth sharing. And she’s already transitioned and has done extremely well at the post-secondary level.”

Tantoco is taking summer classes at UMA and plans to transfer to Kennebec Valley Community College in Fairfield to study radiology technology and later sonography.

She aspires to work in obstetrics and gynecology because she wants to help people.

Her husband, Rolando, is also in the medical field, working at Kennebec Pediatrics. She said he’s waiting for her to get her degree before he attends medical school. The pair met when she was 16 and he was 17.

“My husband is the biggest supporter I have,” she said. “He’ll take the kids for me so I can focus on my studies. He’ll clean the house and take on motherly-type duties so I can do school work. He’s amazing.”

She said she’s frustrated to be graduating only now, at 30, from high school, but she said she doesn’t regret leaving high school. She said a primary reason she dropped out was to help raise her two younger siblings, then 3 and 7.

“I made the decision at the time that it was better for me to take care of them,” Tantoco said. “I don’t regret anything in my life, because I really learned a lot. I feel OK with it. But I do hate that I’m 30 and still trying to get my degree.”

Until making the dean’s list at UMA, she said, she didn’t excel in high school, in part because she moved around to multiple schools and struggled to transition from a small private school to the much larger high school in Waterville.

She started taking adult education classes almost immediately after leaving high school, slowly meeting graduation requirements over the last 11 years.

“I wanted an education because I didn’t want to work dead-end jobs. I want to be someone,” she said. “And I knew I couldn’t do that without an education. I didn’t care how long it took me. I just wanted to do it.”

She’s a bit nervous about speaking at her graduation but looking forward to it just the same. There’s at least one thing, however, she’s looking forward to even more — her college graduation.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

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Twitter: @kedwardskj