Tyller’s experience represents that of many growing up in modern America among the great divide of income inequality. She grew up seeing both sides of Chattanooga, Tennessee, a flourishing tourist destination downtown and “the rest of the city,” where life is different. The child of a single mother, who became a nurse through her service in the Navy, much of Tyller’s childhood was supported by her grandparents. When both of her grandparents died a short time apart, life became rockier.
When Tyller was a freshman in high school, her mother lost her job. Despite moving half-a-dozen times in one year, Tyller maintained a 4.0 grade point average, but the lack of stability prevented her from participating in many normal high school activities. “I did cross-country my junior year, and I would have loved to do that more but I couldn’t make the commitment because of gas money, equipment fees, or anything like that.”
“So it was just my mom and I since I was eight. We were bumping around, not able to have a place of our own, just living in someone’s spare bedroom.”
Her mother’s career in the medical field inspired Tyller to want to become a doctor.
Tyller kept her focus on succeeding in school, despite working full time at Walmart when her mother couldn’t find work. “For me, it was come home from school, have maybe an hour and half to get some food and do some homework, then go off to work. My friends were going to football games and just hanging out, but I was going to work. It wasn’t a huge issue for me. It was just what I needed to do, what needed to be done. I think I got a better work ethic and adapted well to a school like Berea where you have an on-campus job.”
Now, Tyller is a chemistry major. She works two positions on campus, one as a peer consultant helping students with their writing and presentation skills, and the other as an ambassador in Admissions.
“Berea teaches you not to give up, it says, ‘Don’t give up because people care about you! We care about you in this way, that way, and this way.’ I don’t think at another school we would know how people believe in us, and how much farther we can go when we have that support!”