Barber is an obstetrician/gynecologist at North Ottawa Community Hospital’s Women’s Health office. She is the guest speaker for Central High School’s graduation on Wednesday.
The ceremony is at 7 p.m. at Lakeshore Middle School’s auditorium.
Barber grew up in Manistee without any rules or responsibilities from her parents. She was free to do what she wanted and was often in trouble, she said.
“I lost my way,” said Barber, 37. “I didn’t have any guidance or anyone disciplining or directing me.”
She began hanging out with another group of kids and became a “burnout” — no longer caring about school.
In 11th grade, Barber got pregnant. She finished that year of school — to the disapproval of her student counselor for being a bad influence on her classmates, she said. Barber did not return the following fall for her senior year.
Instead, the three-months pregnant 17-year-old married the baby’s father, her boyfriend of two years.
Once her baby was born, Barber focused on taking care of her daughter. She went back to school a year after she would have graduated to receive her GED.
Barber then began thinking of her future outside of parenthood and enrolled at Westshore Community College in Scottville.
“I didn’t know what else to do," she said. "I was still feeling lost."
Nursing piqued Barber’s interest, as her mother-in-law worked in that profession. For a while, she worked as a nurse’s aide and enjoyed the connections she made with people in the industry.
“But I wanted to be the one who makes the decisions and change their lives in a different way,” Barber said.
After two years at the community college — achieving straight A’s in her classes — she transferred to Michigan State University, where she graduated from its College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2009.
“I just never tried and I didn’t care because I wanted to socialize and have fun,” Barber said of her teen years. “But when I put in just a little effort, it wasn’t hard. I realized early on that I was smart and I could do anything if I put my mind to it.”
That is the message she hopes to send to the 37 Central High School seniors who graduate on Wednesday night.
“I want them to see that they are just like me,” Barber said. “So many times I thought this was too difficult. … But you can do it if you believe in yourself and ask for help. They shouldn’t have fear.”
Central High School Principal Paul Kunde hopes Barber’s story of how she turned her life around will resonate well with his students.
To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.