EUREKA (WEEK) - For one Eureka College graduate, a unique and rewarding academic journey recently concluded as she walked across the stage.
Kerri Berry grew up in the River City, and attended Peoria High School.
She had her first child at 15 years old. By the time she was ready to graduate, she had been a teen mom for nearly two years, but that wasn't going to stop her from being successful.
"I had a lot of support from my family so that was definitely the way I was able to get in to college and complete it," Berry said.
Graduating from Peoria High School in 2011, Kerri Berry enrolled at Illinois Central College. In 2015, she earned her associate's degree in general studies. However, she didn't have plans to continue her education, until years later, when she discovered the Uniquely Eureka Promise Program.
"This is my opportunity to finish my degree because it's been years since I was in ICC," Berry said.
The scholarship program offers academically successful students, with an associate's degree from an accredited Illinois community college, and who are in financial need, an opportunity to attend Eureka College tuition-free. At the time, Berry's husband had just lost his job, and they weren't financially stable.
"So I kind of just said what's the worst that could happen if I apply," Berry said.
To her surprise, 27-year-old Berry was chosen for the program, but it wouldn't come without obstacles. Berry started her academic career at Eureka, while also raising four kids.
"It's really hectic trying to navigate doing school work, and then taking care of children and then adding on the pandemic, you now have to be their teacher and then your own teacher and it's just pretty difficult," Berry said.
When asked if there was moments when she wanted to give up, Berry admits, it crossed her mind.
"Oh ya! I think my last semester I was like, it'd just be easier to quit," Berry said.
Despite some urges to quit, Berry pushed through, becoming the first Uniquely Eureka Promise student to graduate with Magna Cum Laude honors, and from the Honors Program.
"It took a lot of work, a lot of long nights but I'm really happy that I chose to do that," Berry said.
Berry received her bachelors degree in a combination of psychology and sociology. She is currently employed with the Bright Futures program in Peoria Heights.
Berry is hoping her story can help others who may be in a similar situation.