Jala Graves is one of 81 seniors from Trousdale County High School who reached one of life’s important milestones last Friday night as she received her high school diploma.

However, for Jala, this was no small feat.

“I’ve lived here basically my whole life,” said Graves. “I don’t live with my parents. I live with my guardians. I’ve been working since I’ve been 15 to support myself. I’ve tried hard to keep up with my grades.”

Graves was removed from her home and placed in foster care in sixth grade. She was just 11 years old.

Fortunately, she landed in the home of Ryan and Tina Chasse, her foster parents, along with Crimson Chasse, her nine-year-old foster sister who has been her motivation in moving forward with her life.

“My biological parents told me I wouldn’t amount to much, but that motivated me to make something of myself,” said Graves. “I know where I came from, and I don’t want to be like that. I’ve come to accept that I’m going to be okay.”

Looking back at the past four years, Graves had kind words for both the teachers and administrators who supported her through her time at Trousdale County High School.

“What I love about the teachers here is that they are always there if I need them,” Graves said. “Mrs. (Teresa) Dickerson (the principal) really cares about all the students too.

“I think I’ll really miss it here.”

Graves’ love of children has helped mold her plans for the immediate future, which include enrolling in college.

“I’m going to Vol State (Community College in Gallatin) to study early childhood education,” Graves said. “I’m going to use Tennessee Promise (a scholarship, mentoring and community service program).

“After I graduate from college, I would love to open my own daycare.”

Graves’ message to those who are struggling is simple ... never give up.

“I would tell everyone to never give up ... chase your dreams,” said Graves. “Find someone that you can talk to. Don’t listen to people who want to tear you down, just move ahead and throw it back in their faces.”

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