Linell Burrows is building a legacy.
The St. Petersburg woman earned her GED certificate a few weeks ago in the Even Start program at Campbell Park Elementary where she attends classes with her 5-year-old daughter, Shakendra.
Burrows, 24, who dropped out of school in the ninth grade, is setting an example for her three children and the 10-year-old sister she has been caring for since her mother's death in January 1993, she said.
Bonnie Cangelosi, Even Start program coordinator, presented the high school equivalency certificate to Burrows in cap and gown during a graduation celebration last month hosted by fourth-grade teacher Phillip Daugherty.
Daugherty teaches Burrows' son, Montrevius Barber, 9, and her sister, Shekemia Ludden, who also attend Campbell Park. The celebration _ complete with cake, punch and lots of friends _ was the children's idea, Daugherty said, "to show how proud they are of her accomplishment."
Her achievements won't end with the GED, Burrows said. Her next goal is to attend St. Petersburg Junior College to become a paralegal.
Burrows was born in California and moved to Tifton, Ga., with her mother when she was 2. She never met her father.
Her mother, Louvinia Ludden, cleaned houses and made ends meet with the help of welfare.
"I vowed that when I became an adult, I was not going to follow in those same footsteps," Burrows said. "But I did, and by the time I was 18, I already had two kids on my own."
Burrows was an honors student at G.O. Bailey Elementary in Tifton and at Tift County Junior High School, until she discovered boys during the summer following eighth grade, she said.
When she returned to school in the fall, she was pregnant. Her son, Montrevius, was born the following May. Though she went back to school the following year, she missed some days to take Montrevius to the doctor, she said, and sometimes she just "ditched" school to be with his father.
Her mother stood by her, she said, "but she allowed me to make my own mistakes. If she had really put her foot down, I would have stayed (in school), because I always obeyed her."
It was an invitation from her cousin, Minnie Little, that first brought Burrows to St. Petersburg.
"Her mother and I, we came up together," Little said. "Linell was like the daughter I never had. She was a joy to have around."
Even as a small child, Burrows was eager to learn, Little said.
"If she could get a book, she would just read _ twirl her hair and read. She always wanted to be in college and do other things. She was very intelligent, but she had very stubborn ways at times."
Little lived in St. Petersburg for a while, and Burrows stayed in Florida when Little returned to Georgia.
"If she hadn't come down there, she wouldn't have accomplished anything that she did," Little said. "None what-so-ever. She would probably be at McDonald's or over at her uncle's used furniture store."
Mary Rainey, a close friend of Burrows' mother, received a call when Burrows passed her GED exam.
"Shekemia called me," Rainey said. "She was so proud of her sister. Linell has always worked hard. I'm sure (her mother) instilled that determination in her.
"Linell's family always thought a lot of her, and they were always dependent on her. Before they made decisions, they would always call Linell and ask what they should do.
"She's her own boss and she's very outspoken. She's a leader, not a follower."