Karen Reynolds will graduate in May from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College with an associate's degree in accounting.
That would be a pretty routine story.
But here's where her story diverges from the usual: Now a student with an outstanding 3.769 grade-point average, she previously struggled with drug addiction and homelessness.
Now she's going to have breakfast with Gov. Bev Perdue.
Reynolds, 29, said she started smoking crack when she was 15. She got into the wrong crowd, she said, and was trying to fit in. Then she became addicted.
She worked as a prostitute and sold drugs to undercover police.
Then, she said, "I got tired of living my life."
She left for Pennsylvania with a friend, on the run from past transgressions.
She got homesick, however, and came home, determined to face her past and make a fresh start.
She feared she would go to prison.
"Luckily," she said, "God worked."
While she was away, she had attended school and stayed out of trouble.
"Believe it or not, the judge threw my charges out," Reynolds said. "That was an act of God."
She soon got her own apartment and was able to get her driver's license again.
Her academic adviser at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College encouraged her to apply for "The Great Within the 58," an annual program of the state's community college system that honors extraordinary students at each of its 58 campuses statewide.
"The next thing I know, I won," Reynolds said. "I was a drug dealer living on the streets. Now I'm going to have breakfast with the governor."
The event will be April 14 at the Governor's Mansion in Raleigh.
"Not everything can keep you down," she said. "It's not easy. It's a choice."
Reynolds had taken Accounting I and II in high school.
"I just enjoyed it," she said. "I understand it. People think it's about math, but it's about knowing what transactions will affect which areas of your business."
Reynolds will look for a job after she graduates. She plans to send her résumé to accounting firms in Salisbury and Charlotte. She acknowledges it won't be easy, and she's still working to have some felonies expunged from her record.
For now, she is working part time as a server in a restaurant.
"I don't want to do more than I can handle," she said, because she doesn't want to be tempted to use drugs again.
But she knows she'll graduate with a good résumé, and she knows she'll get the opportunity at some point to prove herself in the workplace.
Her adviser told her, "Once you get that chance, you won't do anything but go up."
Reynolds has already overcome a great deal in the past few years.
"I'm an example that shows you can have a really bad life and can turn things around," she said. "When I say I was at the bottom, I mean the bottom.
"You can still come back from that. It can be done with determination."