When Chester High School valedictorian Cassie Herr became a mother at 16, she wanted to show her classmates that she could still chase her dreams.
“She said to me, ‘Mom, I am going to graduate No. 1 in my class. I am going to show them what I am made of,’” her mother, Stacy Herr, recalled.
Cassie, now 18, used herself as an example of successfully overcoming adversity when she gave the valedictorian address last week to her 177-member graduating class.
“No matter what happens, you can do anything you set your mind to,” Cassie told The Herald this week. “I tried to encourage my classmates as much as possible.”
Cassie gave birth to her son, Chance, in April 2014, when she was in 10th grade. She is now raising the 2-year-old with the help of her family.
After she became a mother, Cassie earned top grades in a slate of challenging junior- and senior-level courses, including Advanced Placement Biology, Calculus, English and History. She also continued playing on the school volleyball team in her junior and senior years.
Her family – including her parents, Scott and Stacy Herr, and her three younger siblings – helped and supported her, Cassie said, but she had to work hard, too.
“I’d have late nights, until 2 in the morning, doing homework, so I could keep up with my school work,” she said. “It was a lot of late nights.”
She had always been a good student, Cassie said, and she didn’t want to let her grades slip after Chance was born.
“I wanted to still keep all A’s,” she said.
This fall, Cassie plans to begin classes at the University of South Carolina Lancaster, where she plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing while living at home. She is interested in working with children.
Stacy Herr said she’s proud of all that her daughter has accomplished. “It is awesome,” she said. “She has worked very hard to get where she is, and I am very proud of her.”
When Cassie got pregnant in the 10th grade, she enrolled in online classes for the 2014 spring semester, before and after Chase was born. Cassie said she knew that people were talking about her at school, even if she didn’t hear it.
“It was hard to think that some of the people I had called friends didn’t look at me like that anymore,” she said. “You really find out who your friends are.”
On the day Chance was born, Stacy Herr said, Cassie was supposed to take the state High School Assessment Program test, or HSAP.
School officials told Cassie she could go to Columbia five days later to take the state-mandated test, Herr said, but that that might be too soon for the new mother.
It wasn’t too soon for Cassie.
After Cassie had given birth on a Thursday, Herr drove her to Columbia the following Tuesday, and she completed the HSAP.
In the fall of 2014, Cassie went back to Chester High to begin her junior year. Chance went to Horizons Christian Academy, a child care program connected to the family’s church, while Cassie was at school, she said.
After school, Cassie would go to volleyball practice, then come home to do homework. Cassie said she would play outside with Chance, and often he would curl up next to her and fall asleep while she did school work.
Cassie’s parents helped her financially, as did the baby’s father, she said, though she and the father are no longer together. In 2015, she began working about 10 hours each week as a waitress at The Front Porch restaurant in Richburg.
Cassie has learned that she can accomplish what she needs to with the help of those around her.
“When you’re in a situation that you don’t know how to get out of,” she said, “you need to ask somebody for help.”
Herr said Cassie had to give up some of the social life in high school, but she continued doing things that were most important to her.
“She’s a great inspiration.”
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077