Jelina Sheppard says she would've never been able to graduate from college without her son's patience and motivation.
When the 24-year-old single mom walked across the stage Saturday to accept her diploma from the North Carolina Agriculture and Technical State University, she let out a sigh of relief, and thanked her 4-year-old son, Karter Sheppard.
"Dear Karter, For all those nights you had to fall asleep in the library, for all those times you had to watch cartoons alone because I needed to do homework, for the early mornings in daycare because I needed to be in class, to being the last one there because I had to work," Sheppard wrote in an Instagram post honoring her son.
"Most importantly, for the moments of separation because I needed to get this done, thank you."
"We have a really special relationship," Sheppard told TODAY. "When I'm sick, he takes care of me. When I'm in need of a hug, he's there with open arms. I never thought I'd have a little boy watching over me, but I'm so happy I do."
Sheppard had been studying mathematics at the university since 2010, but unfortunately encountered obstacles that required her to take some time off.
Shortly after having Karter during Sheppard's sophomore year of college, his father took off, which forced her to take online classes. Not only did this set her back in terms of credits, but she was disappointed to find out her scholarship didn't cover those classes.
When she finally decided to go back to school full time last year, her car broke down halfway through the semester, leaving her without transportation.
"I had to withdraw for the rest of the year and work as a substitute teacher instead to save up to get my car fixed," Sheppard told TODAY.
Through it all, Karter has been the driving force behind her finishing her degree.
"You are the motivation for my heart to keep beating. I love you more than words can say," Sheppard wrote on Instagram. "I finished because you needed to see me do it. I'm not strong because I want to be, I'm strong because I'm your first example."
Sheppard is happy to now have her degree and plans to find work as a math teacher, while continuing to write her book, "The Boy With No Shadow," which is about a boy growing up without a father figure.
"We've seen a lot and overcame a lot more," Sheppard wrote. "To infinity and beyond, a mother's greatest love."