“I'm going to cry. I'm happy. I'm happy. I'm happy cause looking back at where I came from -- I'm happy. I can't. I'm happy,” Cortni Thomas said.
It is sometimes hard to hold it together and fight back the tears when you think about what you have been through in life.
Thomas knows what it means to struggle.
“I grew up on 4th and Atlantic Southeast,” she said.
Her former neighborhood is a place where she knew it was easy to take the wrong path and fall victim to the streets.
“My childhood wasn't peaches and cream, but I had maybe one of the best childhoods that a person can have,” Thomas said.
She thanks her mother for the sacrifices she made.
“I've seen my mom go through a lot and I've seen my mom fight her way out (of) things,” Thomas recalled. “Even when we didn't have, we always had.”
Thomas didn’t tell her mom that she was working to become a D.C. firefighter right away.
Her grandmother died while she was in training.
“She stood at my mother's funeral and said I'm sad my grandma is not going to be here to see me do this, but I'm doing this for her,” Jean Thomas said.
Thomas’ mother wiped tears from her eyes as she watched her daughter begin a journey toward success on Wednesday.
“She's a product of the struggle from her mom. Work hard and it will pay off,” Jean Thomas said.
“My biggest repayment to my mom is like -- I probably can't repay you with the money and I probably can't repay you with this, that, and the third, but I always told my sisters like 'you owe her everything',” Cortni Thomas said.
Cortni and more than a dozen others walked across the graduation stage Wednesday and officially became D.C. firefighters.