Amanda Randall has a lot to celebrate.
This year, she graduated from Missoula College, and her path hasn't been easy. Last summer, she and her five children were homeless and living out of a motel — and she said that situation wasn't the worst she's experienced.
She's thrilled to have a degree in hand.
"It's been a lot of rocky roads, and something worked out," said Randall, 29.
She's working full time with a degree in accounting technology, and she's ready to take a break from school and turn her attention to other goals.
"Right now, I just want stability, to be able to know that I'm not going to have to worry about what is happening next," Randall said.
Randall almost graduated from Frenchtown High School, but she got a GED instead.
To be close to her mom, she's moved to Idaho, Kentucky, and back to Montana.
She'd tried to go to college in the past, but it didn't work out. In Idaho, when her son was 9 months old, she worked all day and took night classes for a time, a schedule that didn't lend itself to success.
In August 2015, she enrolled at Missoula College. She graduated this spring and is taking one more tax class this fall.
Randall had doubts about school. She keeps to herself and is sometimes intimidated by people, and she wondered if she'd be too old to learn.
"I wasn't sure I could be taught. Am I really going to retain the information?" she said she asked herself.
Her first year, she got the hang of the accounting classes, and she was reminded how much she liked the subject: "I loved it. I fell in love with accounting all over again."
In spring of 2016, her passion for numbers was affirmed in another course.
"I had a payroll class that I absolutely went crazy for," she said.
At the end of the semester, though, Randall's housing situation fell apart. She could no longer live with relatives, and she found herself in a motel, consumed with the responsibility of finding her children a home.
"I didn't see how it was going to be possible. I didn't have a down deposit," Randall said.
She didn't have time to think about much else either.
"When I was homeless last summer, I didn't think I was going to go back to school," Randall said.
A 2015 study led by the University of Wisconsin-Madison of 4,000 community college students estimated that 13 percent were homeless.
UM does have other homeless students, but it does not collect such data.
Randall felt like she could breathe again after she got into a program of the YWCA of Missoula. Through the nonprofit, she had 55 days paid at a motel.
Just 10 days before she was supposed to be out, she got word that University Housing had an apartment that could accommodate her family, but it wouldn't open for another couple of weeks.
She paid a deposit of $170, and the Alliance Church helped with the remaining $180.
She negotiated an extension to be able to stay at the motel, and as soon as she moved into the apartment, she paid for four months of rent right out of the gate. Then, she tried to get used to the large space.
"It was overwhelming because my apartment was empty," she said.
She had four bedrooms, but little furniture. She and her children shared a queen bed.
"We had one bed. Two playpens. And a couple chairs. Toys. Clothes. So it echoed," she said.
Randall's grades weren't quite as high that third semester as they had been, but she's still graduating with honors and a 3.47 grade point average. She's also graduating with $18,165 in loans, but she believes her degree will be worthwhile and allow her to earn more.
"I had to get out from the rock that I was under," she said.
In the most recent semester, she applied for a job in her field at Cennox. The company wanted her to work full time, which she couldn't do until she finished school, so she asked if she could work part time until the end of the term, then go full time.
"I really would like a chance to show you that I can be a hard worker," she told them.
She interviewed and landed the job in accounts payable.
Randall has fought many battles, and she said it feels rewarding to finish her degree and mark that achievement.
"I didn't do it all on my own. But I did do it," she said.