(CNN) — Lesley McSpadden always wanted to finish school, but the timing was never right.

She dropped out of high school as a junior to care for her young son. She’d gone from someone with career aspirations to a teen mom caring for a newborn.

On Friday, McSpadden will finally receive her diploma at age 37.

Over the past few years, it’s been more than just a personal quest to finish. She wanted to complete high school to honor her slain son, Michael Brown.

Brown’s death sparked nationwide protests after he was gunned down by a white police officer while walking home from a convenience store in Ferguson, Missouri.

McSpadden told CNN she felt her son’s presence while she worked toward her degree.

“I know that he’s been my angel through this all and I know that he’s proud of me,” she said.

The seeds for McSpadden’s return to school were sown last August when she met Art McCoy, the superintendent for the Jennings School District.

The district is one of four that serves Ferguson and it has an new adult high school program.

McCoy encouraged McSpadden to apply.

“It’s our responsibility as a caring community to educate,” McCoy told CNN. “I also impressed on her that there was no better way to honor her son or herself.”

McSpadden spent the last few months taking tests, studying and attending class after a 20-plus year absence.

McSpadden says she finally felt positive again, something she hasn’t felt since her son’s tragic death almost three years ago.

“We don’t ask to be put in the positions we are put in, sometimes they just come upon us and put a halt on our world,” said Jana Loftis. She’s the teacher who worked with McSpadden throughout the school year.

“Ms. McSpadden is the type of person that took a really challenging situation and became determined to make the best of it.”

The commencement ceremony Friday will be particularly special for McSpadden because she’ll graduate alongside her daughter, Deja Brown — Michael Brown’s little sister.

“[Deja is] very excited,” McSpadden said. “She said, ‘Mom I wish you could go to college with me too!’”