New London woman went from teen mom to pharmacy school grad

Anissa Turner holds the music as her daughter Ariana, 8, practices on her Ukulele in their New London home Monday, May 18, 2015. Turner was a teen mother when she graduated from Waterford High School in 2008. This month she graduated from the University of St. Joseph School of Pharmacy.  (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Anissa Turner holds the music as her daughter Ariana, 8, practices on her Ukulele in their New London home Monday, May 18, 2015. Turner was a teen mother when she graduated from Waterford High School in 2008. This month she graduated from the University of St. Joseph School of Pharmacy. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

The odds weren't always in Anissa Turner's favor.  

Two weeks and six days before she gave birth to her daughter, Ariana, during her junior year at Waterford High School, her mother, Vicki, died unexpectedly.

Turner had to deal with the loss of her mother, come to terms with motherhood at 16 and make sure that neither of those major life events altered her plans for the future.

The challenges, she said, fueled her to do better. She graduated from high school in 2008 and the attended Eastern Connecticut State University, where she graduated in 2012 with a bachelor of science degree in biology and a minor in public health.

And earlier this month, she donned a cap and gown and received her doctorate in pharmacy from the  University of Saint Joseph School of Pharmacy in West Hartford.

She is currently working as a graduate intern at Rite Aid Pharmacy in East Lyme while she studies for her board and state exams, which are scheduled in July.

Turner was featured in The Day in 2008 in a series of profiles of graduating high school seniors. Her story drew lots of judgment -- some positive and some negative.

But her critics didn't know Turner. The young woman who is wiser than her 25 years. The young woman whose mission is to be a great example to her daughter. The young woman who wants to honor the sacrifices that her parents made for her.

Her message to the graduates who face challenges or what may seem insurmountable obstacles is simple: "Don't give up." 

"I would say that staying focused now pays off huge in the future," said Turner. "So surrounding yourself with people who will support you and encourage you to be the best version of yourself will help you achieve that," said Turner.

Turner said her parents weren't happy when she told them she was pregnant and she completely understood why. Her parents, like many people, thought that her future would be over. College would be out of the question, they thought.

Turner, whose parents were divorced, moved in with her father, Richard, in New London after her mother's death. Vicki Turner was an advanced practice registered nurse and certified as a clinical nurse specialist in adult psychiatric-mental health nursing. Her dad, Richard Turner, was a Navy veteran and a computer programmer at the Naval Submarine Base.

"I wasn't going to give her up," Turner said of her 8-year-old daughter. "Despite the fact I had her young, I knew then that I had to set an example for her just as if I had her at 30."

Richard Turner told her that he would support Turner and her daughter if she continued in school. Turner said her dad wasn't thrilled with Ariana's dad, Andrew Lee, but remained supportive of the young relationship for the sake of their daughter. Lee and Turner have been a couple for 10 years now, and Turner says that Lee has been instrumental to her success. He has helped her and encouraged her when she thought she couldn't succeed.

Turner doesn't really talk to her daughter about having her so young because she doesn't want Ariana to ever feel she was a burden.

"Sure it wasn't easy, but I'm grateful that I have her," said Turner.

Turner said she missed out on normal teenage events. There were long nights of studying because she had to take care of her daughter during the day.

It was a balancing act, but well worth it if it meant a better future for her family.

Turner lost her "biggest supporter," her dad, when he died last July after complications from a colonoscopy. He was given posthumously the Meritorious Civilian Service Award from the Navy for his work in developing a risk reduction management program that is also used in other military branches.

Turner also credits, her sister, Sarah Turner, maternal grandmother, Victoria Campbell, and her late mother's sister and husband, Deborah and Ted Bochain, for their support.

Deborah Bochain said she has provided emotional support to Turner while her husband, Ted, has been there to pick up Ariana from school or do whatever Turner needed to ensure that she can finish school.

Bochain said losing both parents at an early age hasn't been easy for Turner, but that she has managed to remain a great mother and stick to her goals.

"She had a great role model mom and dad," said Bochain. "She's extremely driven, competent, compassionate, wise before her time. She understood her responsibility. In hindsight, you never know why things happen... I think having her daughter probably helped her tremendously through the loss of both of her parents."

Sarah Turner said her sister is an inspiration not only to her but to others as well.

"I hope that her tough journey, hard work and dedication will inspire others to know with great desire and passion anything can not only be accomplished but gracefully conquered," said Sarah Turner. "... Our parents would be so proud."

Turner said she became interested in the public health field at an early age by watching her mother work. As an undergraduate student, she loved doing research and lab work but still wanted to work with the public. Pursuing a career in pharmacy would allow her to do both.

"Doctors' appointments are so quick," said Turner. "It's nice to be accessible to patients. Sometimes they forget to ask their doctors some questions so we try to help as best we can. I really enjoy helping people."

During a hooding, oath and awards ceremony held May 8 at the university, she didn't know that she would receive two of the 18 awards given out that day. She received the Marguerite M. Miceli Memorial Award, which is given to two students who have made significant improvement in academic performance and demonstrate character and passion for a career in pharmacy, and the Wolters Kluwer Award for Excellence in Clinical Communication, which is given to a student in recognition of high academic achievement and has demonstrated superior verbal and communication skills.

Turner said the occasion was bittersweet. She was proud but also wished her parents had been there to experience it with her.

"I never wanted them to feel like the decisions I made were a reflection on them," said Turner. "They were great parents. My advice to other families in similar situations is to not kick your kids to the curb. Your support is invaluable. I know I couldn't have done it without the support of my family."

i.larraneta@theday.com

Twitter: @larraneta

Anissa Turner, right, and her daughter Ariana, 8, play with four recently hatched chicks brought home from Ariana's school in the back yard of their New London home Monday, May 18, 2015. Turner was a teen mother when she graduated from Waterford High School in 2008. This month she graduated from the University of St. Joseph School of Pharmacy. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Anissa Turner, right, and her daughter Ariana, 8, play with four recently hatched chicks brought home from Ariana's school in the back yard of their New London home Monday, May 18, 2015. Turner was a teen mother when she graduated from Waterford High School in 2008. This month she graduated from the University of St. Joseph School of Pharmacy. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

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