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CHICAGO — Walking across a graduation stage is an accomplishment for anyone, but for single mom Lesa Donaghy it was about far more than just a diploma; it was all that she overcame to get there that made graduation so inspiring. 

After spending years in foster care, Donaghy couldn’t wait to be on her own. Her fresh start was quickly jaded when she was raped by a stranger at a house party. Then, when her boyfriend found out the assault resulted in a pregnancy, she says he beat her so badly she had to be airlifted to the hospital. 

Against everyone’s advice, Donaghy decided to keep the baby. 

 “Thinking about taking away a life that didn’t ask to be here; I didn’t ask for it but also, he didn’t,” Donaghy said.

Her son Lucas was born with serious health complications, and it was over a month before mom and baby were able to leave the NICU.  But with no family and no job, there was no place they could go home to. 

“I ended up going with him to a woman’s shelter. The only requirement of living there is you have to go to school,” Donaghy said.

Determined to give her baby a better life, Donaghy signed up for classes at Chicago’s MacCormac College. Through a work-study program, Donaghy stayed the course and pursued her degree as a paralegal full-time while working and raising her baby boy. 

Now two years later, Donaghy is now just a week from getting her diploma and her story is part of the inspiration behind Maccormac College’s newest scholarship: the Single Parent Initiative.

“We believe if single parents can get their education, that’s a legacy for their children and their children’s children. It’s transformative,” said Dr. Kenya Grooms, MacCormac Dean of Academics and Student Affairs. 

It’s also a lesson Lesa Donaghy is now passing on to others. 

“Not only is getting that degree the greatest thing, but knowing you were able to do it on your own, I now know there is hope,” Donaghy said..