BAKER — Amy Tolar was told by her own mother that she would never amount to anything.

“My mom told me, ‘You are not even going to graduate high school, you’re not smart enough,’ Tolar said. “My mom didn’t care, she wasn’t in my life very much as a child.”

However, the now 47-year-old has proven that not only was she smart enough to gain a high school diploma, but she had the resilience to fight through adversity to earn her bachelors degree in management supervision from Northwest Florida State College.

Tolar walked alongside about 550 other graduates at Saturday's 54th annual commencement at the Raider Arena on the Niceville campus.

In 1990, during her senior year in high school, Tolar said she left her childhood home. She moved to Fort Walton Beach and graduated from Choctawhatchee High School the same year.

In 1997, Tolar began working toward an associates degree at what was then called Okaloosa-Walton Community College, but life got in the way. Eventually, she met and married Jeffery “JT” Tolar, and in 2001, the newly-wed military couple moved to Italy.

When the military brought the couple back to Fort Walton Beach, and her husband retired, Tolar once again began pursuing higher education. Tolar finally earned her Associates of Accounting Degree from Northwest Florida State College in May of 2011, however, shortly afterwards, she got word that her sister had taken her own life.

“My first day of class at the University of West Florida, is when my sister committed suicide,” Tolar said. “After that I stopped pursing my education for a while.”

Tolar then poured herself into her job in financial management on Hurlburt and Eglin Air Force Bases, but was finally drawn back to her life-long dream of gaining a bachelor’s degree thanks to a good friend, Nicole Allen.

“I started back to school in May 2017, which was when Nicole got her (bachelors) degree,” Tolar said. “She was my main motivator to get it done because she did it having two children working full-time as a mom and wife.”

After two more years of successes and even more life setbacks, Tolar was finally cleared to graduate just three days before Saturday's ceremony.

“It took me 29 years after high school to get this so I feel relief and a lot of weight lifted off my shoulders," she said. "I am the only one on my side of the family to even get a degree.” 

Her accomplishment was all the more sweet because Tolar’s stepdaughter Autumn will also be graduating this month with a law degree from Barry University in Orlando.

“I’m so proud of her endurance,” Tolar said. “I want to encourage those out there to just stay steady to your goals and endure the journey that you are on. Keep it focused, one day at a time.”