COLUMBUS, GA - Natalie Miller is a student, a mother and has now been named the 2017 Exceptional Adult Georgian in Literacy Education for Columbus Technical College.
But upon first meeting the Columbus native, you would never expect her journey to this moment has been a hard-earned achievement filled with conquering her own demons from the past.
"You stop, and then you start, and then you try to stop again," said Miller. "It's shaky turf for me."
The 35-year-old recovering drug addict had been clean for just three months when she stepped foot onto her newfound college campus, with hopes for a better future. Miller said she knew getting her G-E-D was one of the first steps she needed to take in order to reach her life goals.
"To finally achieve something in my life; to finally progress," said Miller.
For many years, Miller said the relationship with her now 16-year-old daughter, Ny'La, was rocky.
"For [Ny'La], she never knew if I was really going to be there this time," said Miller with teary eyes. "But I understand why she felt that way. Over time we have rebuilt our bond."
Miller said she wanted to show her daughter and her family that anything is possible when you have faith in yourself and your future. Miller described her first moments back in school as "scary," but she knew it was something she had to do.
"I had been out of school for 17 years," said Miller.
After months of classes, Miller's hard work paid off, and many noticed her achievement.
As the Adult Education Student of the Year, Miller will compete with EAGLE winners from sister colleges in the Technical College System of Georgia this coming March.
"It would be an honor to be chosen," said Miller.
Miller said if she is chosen as the state's overall winner, she hopes to empower others with her story. Miller explained she wants people to know they can do anything if they believe in themselves.
"It's not just drugs. It can be anything in their life that's stopping them from pursuing their education," said Miller.
Miller said she thinks the next few years ahead for her future look bright. With hopes of going into the medical field, Miller said it was her aunt, Connie Leath, who jumpstarted her passion for nursing.
"Although my aunt is wheelchair bound, that doesn't prevent us from doing the things we love during our time we share," said Miller.
Leath has Cerebral Palsy, a neurological disorder which affects the normal movement of muscles and other physical functions of the body. Miller said both her aunt and her mother, Sharmen Bell, are proud of her hard work and accomplishments.
"They never stop believing in me," said Miller as her fiancee, Reginald Powell, stood by her side.
Miller said Powell was another person who supported her through her high and lows.
"[Powell] tells me every day how proud he is of me," said Miller.
Miller says she is thankful for the amount of support she has had throughout her journey, but offered words of advice for anyone who is experiencing what she went through.
"Believe in yourself. Even if no one else believes in you, have faith in yourself," said Miller.