Mandy Higginbotham, 2020 GOAL winner

For Georgia Piedmont Technical College (GPTC) graduate and 2020 Georgia Occupational Award of Leadership (GOAL) award winner and Student of the Year, Mandy Higginbotham, taking the first step toward a brighter future was not easy – but necessary.

“I had stayed at home for 10 years with kids,” Higginbotham, mother to five, said. “I had no experience, no education and decided I would never be in that position again.” So, Higginbotham did what any person determined to get out of a difficult situation would do.

  She moved forward.

  “I got an education and I got a career,” she explained. “I already had five kids – so, I couldn’t go very far.

  “I needed something that was close by,” she added. And GPTC was her answer.

  On a Tuesday that would have been like any other for Higginbotham, she made that change. Casting every self-doubt she had aside, Higginbotham decided to enroll at GPTC. This decision, however, had been a product of much thought and deliberation.

  “[The decision to enroll at GPTC] had been a bit of a process — I had considered it for some time,” she said. “I had to remind myself that I am brave, capable and that I have to stop making excuses to remain stagnant!”

Higginbotham, however, did not tread into this unknown frontier without a direction. “I did have a specific area of study,” Higginbotham said. “I did want to be a paralegal and be in law.”

  And that was exactly what she did — by enrolling in the Paralegal Studies courses offered at GPTC’s Newton Campus location in Covington, Higginbotham turned her life in a new and exciting direction. She would go on to pursue an associate of applied science degree, equipping herself with the tools and skillset needed to succeed.

  “The biggest impact on me were my teachers,” Higginbotham said. “[Ms. Murray and Ms. Haymore] were so helpful.”

  The climb to success for Higginbotham did have its challenges. “There were certainly times where I was frustrated,” she said, “where I thought I generally do not have the time or energy to finish this and [my teachers] just encouraged me and pushed me along.”

  Like many experiences during 2020, her academic career was not unscathed from the reach of the novel Coronavirus/COVID-19. The pandemic forced students like Higginbotham at the time to finish their education remotely.

  While Higginbotham says the experience of completing her last semester from home— with all of her kids and husband close at hand, while teleworking — was stressful, there was still something to be gained.

  “Don’t give up on your dreams,” she encouraged, “just because this short period in our times seems overwhelming.”

  “You have to look into the future,” she continued. “Even when I started college, it felt like it was such a big task.

  “It was two years of my life not being at home every night and studying all the time and not being able to do things with the kids,” Higginbotham added. “But I realized the two years were going to go by whether I was following my dreams or not. So, go for it.”

In one of her last duties as this year’s GPTC GOAL winner, Higginbotham addressed her fellow graduates on Dec. 11 in the 2020 Virtual Commencement Ceremony. Hear her inspiring keynote speech and watch the full celebration here.

Higginbotham is now employed full time as a paralegal with Kessler and Solomiany, LLC, an Atlanta-based law firm specializing in family law.


By Justin Clay

Photo taken by Jana Wiggins