PROVIDENCE — As a teenager growing up in a troubled Brockton home a few years back, now city resident Cherissa Andrade had no intention of going to college, never mind seeking to extend her educational experience.
Today, not only is Ms. Andrade, 25, about to leave Rhode Island College with a Bachelor’s degree in English, she hopes to peruse a Master’s degree in the subject. She graduates with the rest of the Class of 2014 Saturday, May 17.
“It’s going to mean a lot,” Ms. Andrade said of earning her college diploma. “I’m the first one in my family to graduate college. It’s especially meaningful because I’ve basically been on my own since I was 15. I’m trying to make a better life for myself, trying to get out of the cycle. It really means a lot. I want to build something better.”
In between graduating high school and college, Ms. Andrade also became a mother and a U.S. Army veteran, having served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan from 2008 to 2010.
Her story is an even greater one of inspiration considering, as mentioned, Ms. Andrade has pretty much been on her own since she was just 15 years old.
Then, she and her three siblings were basically sent fending for themselves after the boyfriend of Ms. Andrade’s mother decided he didn’t want children. Her father, an addict, was absent from the scene. The children were told by their mother to move out, eventually finding a place to live with their 18-year-old sister. Ms. Andrade worked at a Papa Gino’s restaurant to help pay expenses. After high school she enlisted in the Army.
Things didn’t get any easier for the young adult. On leave following the completion of boot camp, Ms. Andrade became pregnant. Two weeks before her son’s first birthday she was sent overseas to Kuwait and from there to Iraq.
“When I saw my son again he didn’t know who I was. He was already walking and talking,” she said.
Before she entered the military, Ms. Andrade had no ambition to go to college. In fact, she had placed little value on her own life beyond the today.
“It didn’t matter to me where I was going,” Ms. Andrade explained. “But the military matured me. I got a bigger picture of life. I started taking classes while I was overseas because I didn’t want my son to have the kind of life I had.”
While in the military, Ms. Andrade began writing her memoirs, self-titled “Back Roads,” a portion of which was recently published in “Shoreline,” Rhode Island College’s magazine of Literature and Art. In her work, she described the deferred dreams of her parents, which led to their broken home.
“When I was younger I liked to write, but it wasn’t any good. I was just a kid,” Ms. Andrade said. “In the military, I started to share some of what I wrote with my friends, and they told me it was good and that I should do something with it. You never know if it really is good because they’re your friends, and they’re not going to say something bad to you. But I eventually did. It gave me the confidence to pursue it.”
Fast forward to the present and Ms. Andrade has certainly found an outlet, a purpose for her life. She is graduating with *** Laude honors and was awarded the Jean Garrigue Award for Creative Writing. She said she hopes to teach and continue to write as she earns her masters while also serving as a role model for young people caught up in difficult lives.
“I think what I’ve done shows people you don’t have to be a product of your environment, you don’t have to stay in the same cycle,” Ms. Andrade, an East Providence resident for four years, added. “Not to sound cliche, but if there is a will, there really is a way out.
“I’ve been through the tough times, being on my own, working three jobs. But if you want to break out and create a better life for yourself, there is a way. Sometimes you think there’s no hope, but there is.”