Melissa Brainard was determined to walk across the Lakeview High School stage wearing a cap and gown, despite the odds. At 15 and just a sophomore in high school, Brainard became a mother.
On commencement day, June 3, the 17-year-old will not only receive her high school diploma, she will continue her journey to becoming a nurse — a journey that began shortly after her daughter, Penelope, was born.Continuing with her educational goals was a challenge — one that Brainard assumed with complete grit and determination.
As a new mother, her focus changed, as did the way she views her future. Penelope, who turns two on June 12, has taken center stage and led Brainard to choose a more practical path.
“I wanted to do really big things — travel and go to a huge university — but now I see that’s a little bit overrated,” she said. “I have a family now and I need to stay here.”
Brainard was dual-enrolled at Montcalm Community College (MCC) during high school and will finish her prerequisites there this fall. She will start the nursing program at MCC next spring and later attend MCC’s Michigan Technical Education Center (M-TEC) — in partnership with Ferris State University — to earn her bachelor’s degree in nursing. Her long-term educational goal is to attend Oakland University in Rochester to specialize in anesthesia.
Facing the challenges as a new mother and ongoing student, Brainard recalled her fears about telling her parents she was pregnant. Although the initial shock of the pregnancy was upsetting to her parents, there was never any doubt she had their love and support.
“I was so scared; I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “My parents and fiancé helped me through everything. Most of all, I knew I didn’t want to be a drop-out.”
The last few years weren’t easy, but Brainard didn’t give up. She faced the challenge of balancing her studies with the daily demands of caring for her daughter.
“The hardest part about being a mom, working and going to school is not having enough time to spend with Penelope,” she said. “Just watching her grow up has been amazing. She’s in the ‘terrible twos’ stage.”
Her fiancé, Todd West, and his mother, Penelope’s grandmother, takes care of Penelope while Brainard goes to school and, after school, when she works at Metron of Belding as a nursing assistant. West was in a serious car accident in March when he fell asleep at the wheel on his way to work. He suffered a broken back in the accident and has partial paralysis, which he goes to physical therapy for. He can move his legs, but still doesn’t have feeling below his knees, according to Brainard.
“It was awful,” she said of West’s accident. “He’s doing well, because he’s young. He has regained a lot and can walk on braces now.”
Although there have been a few bumps in the road for Brainard, she continues to conquer each day with a positive attitude.
“Don’t give up,” she said. “If you give up, you’re not going to get anywhere and you’re going to be upset with yourself and have regrets. You shouldn’t have regrets in life. And definitely don’t push your family away, because they’re a big help.”