ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – She’s a 47-year-old Albuquerque mom who has never known what it feels like to graduate, but all of that will change Saturday in front of thousands, and with a best friend by her side.

“I’ve never graduated from anything,” AnnaLisa Hightower said. “Not even high school.”

Hightower is a high school dropout. After quitting school she turned to drugs and alcohol as an escape. During that time, she also became a single mother.

“It was out of control,” she said. “I robbed myself and my family of time.”

Hightower said she faced two choices: continue down the path of destruction or get clean. She’s now 10 years sober and she still remembers the day she got out from rehab.

“My oldest child said, ‘Thank you for giving us our mom back and don’t ever let that happen again.’ So I don’t even dare to dream because what I would want, I’ve been given so much more.”

Hightower has been working toward this degree for nine years, but Saturday won’t just be about her. She’s sharing the day with one of her four sons.

“It’s a big deal,” Joshua Uffer said. “I don’t even care about going to my graduation but I definitely want to go to hers.”

And Uffer said the road for her hasn’t been easy.

“She has this really impressive skill of managing to zone out my 4-year-old brother while still keeping him from doing 4-year-old things, plus everything else,” he said.

They’re mom and son walking the same stage on Saturday, but when asked about the anticipation for graduation, their answers are about as different as their degrees.

“Relief,” Uffer said.

“Terrified,” Hightower said.

Both of them are graduating from the University of New Mexico. Uffer is graduating with a degree in linguistics, while his mom will earn a bachelors in science.