FORT WORTH (CBSDFW.COM) - As graduation season approaches, a Fort Worth family raises the bar on reasons to celebrate, and a stack of diplomas is just the start.
"May 11, I'll graduate from college," shares Zachary Nunley proudly, especially since the big day is a few weeks before he graduates from high school.
Nunley is a senior at TCC South/Fort Worth ISD Collegiate High School.
"Everyone at my church has been raving," the 18-year-old says with a bashful laugh. "I'm very proud of it, yes."
The dual graduation will bring him one step closer to his dream of becoming a firefighter, one that family members say he has not relinquished since he was a toddler.
"Every kid at some point will dream of becoming a firefighter, but most grow out of it," he admits with a laugh.
"He's worked 12 years to earn this," adds his mother, Jennifer Nunley. "He's worked diligently these past four years to earn his associates degree and his high school diploma. I'm immensely proud of him."
And Zachary is clearly proud of how hard his mother has worked to get well.
"A few years ago she hit a rough patch and she couldn't raise me and my brother, but she has been in my life and raised us as best she can, she had loved and supported us."
And she also made the difficult decision to allow Zachary and his brother to be raised by her aunt and uncle.
"Unfortunately mental health is not something you improve on in a couple of days, or a couple of weeks or months," admits Jennifer with soft spoken candor. "It's been a 16-year struggle for me to find the right medication, and the right support outside of my family to carry on with my education and learn how to be there for them in a way they needed me to."
So when Zachary learned that they'd both be graduating from Tarrant County College this semester, he pushed to get permission for mother and son to cross the stage together.
Jennifer admits, her heart "just blew up."
"I miss getting to have that life with my mom, so I want to share as much as I can with her," says Zachary.
And they're so grateful for the extended family, Jennifer's Aunt Patricia and Uncle John Dilbeck, that made both success stories possible.
"My aunt and uncle, they have taken the helm and raised both my boys," says Jennifer. "I can't tell you how much I appreciate how much they've done for me."
And for the future firefighter. "That's what he feels he's supposed to do," says his Aunt Patricia, "I want him to do it."
And come May 11, the family will have to make room for three more diplomas.
"It's going to be an amazing mothers day present," says Jennifer.
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