LaManda Slover

By the time she started her senior year, LaManda Slover was already a newly-wed. She’d left her family in Cleveland, Okla. (“I’d say Hallett, but that isn’t even on the map,” she laughs) for Fort Hood, Texas. Her husband, Jimmy, had just enlisted in the Army, and she planned to stay with him only for the summer and then finish high school back home.

Then the orders came that changed everything. Jimmy was being deployed to Iraq months earlier than expected.

“Oh, no, so soon,” Slover remembers thinking. She decided to remain in Texas and enjoy the time together they had left. Five months after their move, Jimmy was gone, and she was living alone and attending Shoemaker High School in Killeen.

Hard lessons followed, like $1,500 in telephone calls to Iraq the first month. The 18-year-old considered moving back to her old school, where she’d completed a nurse assisting program. She wanted to earn a phlebotomy certification as well.

Then Slover found out about Shoemaker’s cooperative education program, which led to a full-time position at a nursing home — and a “mom away from home.”

That was co-op teacher Brenda Drawdy. “She didn’t know where to go looking for jobs in, you can imagine, a strange place,” Drawdy recalls. “I just happened to have the right connections.”

In more ways than one. “I went into SkillsUSA to help me meet people,” Slover says, “and that’s how I met all my friends.” As a gift to local children with deployed parents, she helped her chapter collect hundreds of stuffed toys. The project won a state gold medal in Community Service.

Aside from the resulting trip to the SkillsUSA nationals, Slover was planning on being the first person in her family to graduate from high school. Then came a major setback. “I had a heart attack at school,” she explains, and needed surgery due to a pre-existing condition. “I had to get back in school. I couldn’t fail.” Although out for two weeks, with Drawdy at her side in the hospital, she caught up.

Graduation neared, but two days before it, Slover hadn’t heard from her husband, who was making a special trip. “And he knocks on my door. I was like, ‘Ahh! You made it for graduation, everything!’ I was just so afraid he wasn’t going to,” she says.

Their visit was cut short by SkillsUSA’s conference. “Usually he leaves me at the airport, and this time I left him,” Slover notes. “I lost a day with him, but I think we did awesome in our competition.”

It would be hard to forget a senior year like hers. She and Jimmy are now focused on another move, to Fort Riley, Kan., but Slover remembers its lessons: “Don’t ever use a calling card with a cell phone!”