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"At some moments, it seems like it was impossible": William Paterson University graduate hopes to inspire others to dream big

William Paterson University graduate hopes to inspire others
William Paterson University graduate hopes to inspire others 02:24

WAYNE, N.J. -- College commencement season is in full swing and there is no shortage of proud parents and thrilled graduates ready to take on the world.

CBS2s Vanessa Murdock met "Superwoman," a William Paterson University student who is the first in her family to graduate college and hopes her story will inspire others to dream big.

In lieu of a cape, she wears a graduation cap and gown, and most know her as Janelle Alfred.

"Tomorrow is graduation, finally," she said.

She'll walk across the stage and graduate Summa Cum Laude with a bachelor's in public health.

"It was not easy, but it was worth it," Alfred said.

Her story is one of perseverance and will power. She grew up in Jamaica in what she describes as extreme poverty – no running water, no electricity.

"I rarely go to school," Alfred said. "But what keeps me going is because I loved reading."

Ultimately, she graduated high school and worked as a massage therapist. Then in 2011, she immigrated to the states and started all over again.

"Started from GE doing, you know, redoing my high school diploma," Alfred said.

Her Jamaican records were lost in a fire.

She started at Passaic Community College part-time in 2015, graduated there in 2020, and any time in between, she drove past William Paterson and thought, "One day, I'm going to attend that university right there."

"When I got the opportunity to come here, it was like a dream come true," Alfred said.

Nothing would get in the way of fulfilling that dream.

She works full-time at night and is mom of four. Her two youngest, both girls, are 12 and 9 years old.

"My girls made me stronger," Alfred said.

She got married recently, but for most of her new life here in the states, she was a single mother making it happen on four hours of sleep a day. 

"At some moments, it seems like it was impossible," she said.

Impossible only means possible for Alfred because for her, education is the way out of poverty.

"If you dream it, you'll achieve it," she said.

Wednesday, she realizes her dream, but she still has a little work to do -- decorate her cap.

"It's going to say, 'Follow my lead,'" Alfred said.

Follow her to a brighter future.

Commencement is Wednesday at the Prudential Center in Newark. Alfred's family will be there to cheer her on, even her mom, who flew in from Jamaica.

Alfred plans to take a year off from school before returning to get a nursing degree.

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