Woman gets second chance, earns degree from GTCC

GUILFORD COUNTY, N.C. -- When you meet Mary Martin, the first words you expect to hear from her are not, "I've always been a fighter - always."

After all, she'll next tell you she's only 4-foot-11. But that may be why she's had to learn to be such a fighter. And you'll understand that when you hear her story.

"Mary was able to find strength out of pretty, pretty extreme circumstances," says Mark Hagenbuch, one of her instructors at Guilford Technical Community College. "If she wants something to happen, she's not going to wait of it, she'll make it happen."

But Mary had to climb through a lot of trouble to get to this point.

When an early marriage didn't work out, after getting pregnant as a teenager, Mary found herself in a difficult situation.

"When we split up, I had nothing," she says. "He left and his pay went with him."

She then found herself in an abusive relationship with another man where things got so bad:

"I thought, 'I'm going to die. I can't do this - I can't protect my children, I can't protect myself,' that was it. I was like at the lowest of the low."

She came back home to North Carolina (she had been living in Mississippi) still unsure of how to get her life back on track until she began to hear her mother's words of wisdom in her head.

"She said, 'Never say can't, because can't never could do nothing.'"

Mary saw that education was her way out. She got her GED and then, instead of looking to a traditional four-year school as her next step, she saw that Guilford Technical Community College was much more suited to someone in her position.

"At nearly 40-years-old and not having been in a classroom in 20 years, I was like, wait a minute, I can't go at a hundred miles an hour," she says. "GTCC allowed me to do something I'd never done."

And that, says Hagenbuch, is what it's designed to do.

"The most important word in Guilford Technical Community College is, 'community,'" he points out.