Antonia Adams

Piedmont Technical College

"You never know how strong you are until you stand up and take the challenge."

I graduated as Valedictorian of my class in 2015, excited and optimistic to start college at a four-year university. When my mother was diagnosed with stage-four colon cancer, I decided to go ahead and finish out my semester with plans to visit regularly. When I started getting calls about my mom being in the ICU, I knew it was serious. Around that time my father also fell ill. I needed to get home because I was not only their caretaker, but also their personal representative for probate court and their power of attorney. Unfortunately, the following semester my mom passed away. Two months after the death of my mother, my father passed away from health complications related to grief and stress. At 20 years old, I was both emotionally and financially devastated. I didn’t have the means to continue at my university. This is my story of moving forward in order to forge my future. 


How did it make you feel when people talked about you being valedictorian and going to a  technical college?

When I started at Piedmont Tech, I didn’t walk in like, “I’m here to take over the world. I’m here to do awesome.” I actually had some stereotypes ingrained in my mind, and during my first few months of classes I thought, “I’m not supposed to be here.” So many people don’t realize that in addition to offering a great education, technical colleges have work-study programs, clubs, honors societies — everything that a “normal” four-year university offers. 

The thing that changed my perception, as well as the perceptions of those around me, was seeing how it helped me grow into a stronger person. The classes will go directly toward my degree. There’s no difference between taking them at Piedmont Tech versus USC, it’s just that I saved money along the way. I also learned a lot. Many of my teachers have PhDs and are well respected. It’s just school. Besides cost, there really is no difference. I had to fight against the “tech school stereotype” and help others do the same through exposure, education and showing how awesome it is to be there.


What have you defied in your lifetime? 

When my parents first passed away, I was rudderless. I felt like there was no way I could go on after that type of loss. There was no way I could financially pick myself back up. There was no hope after losing the two people who meant the absolute most to me. But then I had to stop and look at the situation and decide what was best for me. I could either sit around and sulk about the horrible situation I was facing or I could take advantage of what was available to me: a wonderful opportunity at a technical college. 

When I hear “I Defy,” I think about how the girl who lost her parents and felt like she couldn’t go on is now a scholar at her technical college, has so many opportunities ahead of her at USC and knows what she wants to do with her future. 


What’s the biggest takeaway from your journey?

You never know how strong you are until you really stand up and take on the challenge. Persevere and use the resources that you have available to you. No matter how difficult something is, just look at what is right in front of you.

I could have just sat down and said, “I’m just going to take a couple of courses and let everything slide.” Instead, I decided to use that time and opportunity to fortify myself, to really build a story, learn about myself and grow in spite of everything. Whether it’s school, pursuing a new career path, finding a new passion in life or even just dealing with whatever personal issues you’re facing, perseverance is the way to succeed in anything.


When you think about your story and hitting this huge milestone in your life, how does that make you feel? And how has that influenced your future? 

I have met so many people at Piedmont who have overcome adversity. I’ve met people who are recovering from drugs, people who had a family and just wanted to start over in life, and 18-year-olds straight out of high school who want a start in life. We all have a shared goal of wanting a better future for ourselves — and that really fortifies my goal of wanting to become a human rights attorney. Piedmont Tech has given me hands-on experience with overcoming stereotypes and seeing what people, many of whom have been overlooked or left behind by society, can achieve in spite of everything. 

Even as my parents were reaching the end of their lives, they still encouraged me to keep pushing, keep going, stay in school and reach for milestones. When I think about all of my accomplishments — and the fact that I successfully completed all of my courses at a technical college — it makes me so proud. It also makes me want to dismantle the misconceptions about technical schools. It can give you the strength that you need. It can rebuild your confidence when you feel like you’re not quite ready for a four-year college. It can provide a slower-paced environment to help you build and get to where you want to be. I feel a sense of huge pride and huge completion. I am so excited to start USC. I feel like everything I’ve done and participated in at Piedmont Tech has given me the skills to be successful in my next step.


What’s the biggest piece of advice you would give high schoolers who are considering the next steps they want to take?

Be flexible. When I graduated high school, I was dead set on my career path. If you would have told me that I would end up at a technical college studying business and law, I would never have believed it. It is up to you to make your future whatever it is you want to make of it. When I meet people who say, “I’m graduating I don’t know what I want to do,” there’s very little to lose by exploring that at a technical college. You can change majors easily and without losing a lot of money. You have the chance to get involved and see if what you’re doing is something you’re truly passionate about. Go with the flow and enjoy life. We never know what the future holds, but we know that if we persevere and keep moving forward, we can achieve things greater than we ever could have imagined.