In 2001, just seven months after she graduated from high school, Quiana Cohn gave birth to her daughter, India. The then-19-year-old mom made herself a promise: That before her India graduated from high school, she would complete her master's degree and become a social worker.
"I wanted to show her that we can overcome anything," Cohn told TODAY Parents. "I wanted to show her that any hurdle, we can definitely conquer it."
When India started kindergarten, Cohn, who by then had two more young children, started attending community college, working toward an associate's degree in early childhood education.
"I started out in early childhood because my kids were young and I wanted to learn how to be a better parent," said Cohn, now 38. "I would drop India off at school and the other kids would go to the community college day care, where I also worked part time after my classes."
Over the next 12 years, Cohn, who lives in Hanover Park, Illinois, kept her promise to herself, obtaining an associate's degree in 2009, followed by a bachelor's degree in 2019 and a master's degree in social work in 2020.
"I wanted to be able to help other families and young moms," said Cohn, who now works in a behavioral health facility helping manage patient care.
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Although both Cohn and her daughter had graduations to celebrate this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, neither had a graduation ceremony. Instead, Cohn and her daughter enlisted the help of photographer Gaby Valladolid, asking her to take photos of them together in their caps and gowns at a nearby park.
Valladolid, who was born in Mexico City and raised in the Chicago area, is a single mother. When she heard of the mother-daughter duo's story, she was thrilled to be a part of celebrating their successes.
"Being a minority in this country, I know the possible obstacles that one can encounter," Valladolid said via email. "I speak from experience which is different from the Cohn family, but as I reflect on what I know and have lived through, I am proud and inspired by this mom and daughter story. People need to know that all things are possible."
Cohn said the most difficult part of achieving her goals was finding balance between being a mother, working full time and completing her classes.
"Making sure that I was actually present for my kids was hard," said Cohn, who re-married after a divorce when her children were young and today has three biological kids and a stepson who range in age from 14 to 18. "I'd stay up at night getting homework done, making sure they didn’t lose their mom while I was accomplishing my goals, too."
"All of my children have heard since preschool that they’re going to college and they’re going to be successful," Cohn added. "There’s no other choice in this house."
So what does India think of her mom's accomplishments and sacrifices?
"I'm proud that she graduated at the same time I did," said the 18-year-old, who recently left home to attend Lincoln College in Lincoln, Illinois. "I’m majoring in the same thing as my mom and I want to be a social worker like her."
Editor's Note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated India Cohn was born in 1991. She was born in 2001.