Lebanon native Casey Cole recently received an admission letter welcoming her to Cumberland University's Jeanette C. Rudy School of Nursing next month.
A video posted on Cole's personal Facebook page showed her nine-year-old son, Carson, opening and reading the letter to his mom. Cole cried when he told her the good news.
"I have longed for a better career for my husband, my son and myself," she said. "But we both had to sacrifice and put a halt in our dreams because being a parent came first."
Cole graduated from Lebanon High School in 2006 and gave birth to their son that same year. "There might not be a universal 'best' age to have a baby, but as an unmarried pregnant woman with no college degree and a serving job, I was pretty sure that 18 was not the best age," she said. "I was convinced that I'd never be successful, never have money and never have a long-lasting relationship with my then-boyfriend," she said. "Everything I ever envisioned for myself was quietly fading, leaving me alone and scared with absolutely no certainty in life."
Fast forward almost a decade and her "then-boyfriend" Colin Cole, son of Dr. Donald and Susan Cole, is now her beloved husband, and her future possibilities are endless.
"We've always known that we would be together forever, but now I can happily say that I get to have him by my side for the rest of my life," she said, adding they will celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary in September. "He is truly my everything and more."
Her son is also her world.
"Looking back, I realize how perfect that timing really was. It taught me more about myself and life than I ever thought I needed to know. Having my son at 18 rather than 28 means I have an extra decade of love and growth, hand-holding and heart-tugging - an extra decade to watch my son grow into the person he is meant to be," she said.
Cole said that becoming a mother changed her and made her more selfless. "I did not even realize how selfish I was until motherhood showed me how selfless I can be. This is not to say that you need to forget about yourself; it just means that the needs of your children cause you to re-prioritize things that you may have thought were very important at one time, before motherhood."
Nursing seemed like a natural extension of her caretaking after Cole earned her Associate of Science degree from Volunteer State Community College. "I am always finding myself in a position to care for someone else," she said.
When she isn't at school or with her family, Cole enjoys spending time outdoors. "I love to camp, be on the lake and under the sun," she said. "My friends take up a lot of my spare time, too, but I am not complaining."
She most admires her younger sisters, Courtney Russell and Kennedy Gardner, and said their friendships and loyalty mean more to her than "they will ever know."
Cole is the daughter of Robert and (stepmother) Angelic Gardner, and Angie and (stepfather) Billy Blackmore.