Tianna Quiller, a 19-year-old college student who graduated from Marietta with her IB diploma in 2012, talked about her challenges in earning the diploma at the 2013 IB Conference of Americas in New Orleans.
She also introduced Ruby Payne, a 30-year American educator and author of “A Framework for Understanding Poverty.”
“This was an amazing opportunity, being there at the conference, meeting so many different people from all over the world, and it was my first ride on an airplane,” Quiller said Sunday after her speech.
The multi-day conference, which began Thursday morning, is an annual gathering of an estimated 1,500 attendees, who represent 500 IB schools from more than 30 countries worldwide.
Quiller was one of only four students from North and South America who were invited to speak.
Paul Campbell with IB Americas personally invited Quiller to speak and introduce Payne.
“I chose Tianna because of her extraordinary persistence and passion,” he said. “I want her to tell her story.”
Quiller told the crowd that during the spring semester of her senior year at Marietta High her family found themselves homeless.
“My mother lost her job as a waitress, which already doesn’t pay very well, then was unable to keep any new jobs because she couldn’t afford child care for my (then 4-year-old) brother,” Quiller said.
Her family bounced around from hotel to hotel for months, all while Quiller was attempting to stay on track and earn an IB diploma.
She considered moving back to her family’s hometown in Thomaston, just southwest of Atlanta, many times, but decided against it.
“Home had (a bed and a next meal) but what it didn’t have was IB,” Quiller told the audience. “The community I found in IB could not be recreated. … I also comprehended that the only way out of poverty was education. Where else could I receive a global education for free? Where else could I receive an education so elite that only 3,632 schools offer it worldwide?”
Quiller said she knew that IB would offer her a strong start after high school.
“No one knew (that I was homeless), not my closest friends, not my teachers and certainly not my IB coordinator,” she said. “And if I had not missed my exams, my story never would have been revealed. A girl has to have her pride, or so I thought, but a girl also has to know when to ask for help.”
And help she did receive.
The IB coordinator, Debbie Woolard, and others helped Quiller sort out financial aid for college, get a cap and gown for graduation and appeal to the IB on her behalf because she had missed some required work in the program.
“Thankfully the IB gods answered by prayers and I was able to receive my diploma,” Quiller said.
“My IB story is not that I was homeless or that I missed two papers and my exams, or even that my first time on an airplane was Thursday morning, but my true IB story is that IB works,” she said. “No matter where you sleep, where you come from, no matter the color of your skin, no matter your religion, language, the size pants you wear or if you’re Team Edward or Team Jacob (from the “Twilight” book series), anybody who is willing to work hard and have the wherewithal to succeed can succeed. After all, who works harder than anybody associated with IB?”
The teenager received a round of applause after her speech, and Woolard, who also attended the conference, said she was proud that her former student was willing to tell her very personal story.
“She inspired and moved the audience, and afterwards people wanted to meet her, touch her and thank her for the new perspective they gained through her experience,” she said. “Tianna truly represents all that is good within Marietta City Schools and the international sisterhood of IB World Schools.”
The IB Diploma Program at Marietta High was authorized in 1995. It offers an academically challenging and balanced program that prepares students for success in universities worldwide and life beyond.
Quiller just completed her freshman year at Mississippi State University. She will be returning to her home state this fall to attend Georgia Southern University, where she will major in early childhood education with plans to graduate in spring 2016.